By Sarah McLenaghan
Sydney’s historic Oxford Street is facing further decline if the City of Sydney introduces parking meters to the area.
Businesses and residents have joined forces to protest the parking changes and save the iconic strip.
Sue Ritchie, owner of the Beauchamp Hotel on Oxford Street, said: “Oxford Street needs help, it doesn’t need another nail in the coffin from Council”.
The City of Sydney is pushing for parking meters to be installed along Greens Road and on the southern side of Oxford Street between Oatley and Greens Road.
The ticket parking will replace the current system of two hours free parking along the kerbside.
Robert Bleakley, owner of Verona Cinemas on Oxford Street, argued: “It’s a further vote in favour of shopping malls and against supporting community and individual traders, and it’s individual traders who have made Oxford street such a vibrant and interesting destination”.
In recent years, the strip has suffered a staggering withdrawal of the unique businesses which once serviced the area. In 2014, it was reported that 89 shopfronts in the precinct were vacant.
Stephan Gyory, owner of Darlinghurst Recordstore, said Darlinghurst is still suffering from the effects of the lockouts which reduced business turnover by 25 per cent: “Council openly admit that this area has been adversely affected by these anti-competitive laws. They also regularly acknowledge the pressure high streets are facing from malls and the internet.
“So why they would then place another financial barrier to small businesses in the area is not at all clear.”
Mr Bleakley added that Oxford Street has already suffered through the failure of the City in 2006 to introduce the Glazebrook study which proposed a light rail along Oxford street.
“People have to be able to access an area and that would have been achieved wonderfully had they proceeded with the light rail, but they didn’t and at the same time they’re tightening up the access which is available,” said Mr Bleakley.
Fellow Oxford Street business owner, Sue Ritchie, believes parking meters are not good for customers: “They’re a cost and an inconvenience that deter people from the area”.
Ms Ritchie shared her fears over what these changes will mean for businesses: “There are lots of businesses there that don’t have off-street parking so we are going to have to be running out and putting money in the meter ourselves. Revenue going down, cost going up, we can really do without it.
“It’s unfortunately the thin edge of the wedge and will encourage more decline because as small businesses are unable to maintain viability with less revenue and more costs, there’ll be more empty shopfronts, not fewer, and you won’t be attracting the same sort of quality of service provider in the area.”
Linda Scott, Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, stressed the historical significance of Oxford Street: “Oxford Street is one of the City of Sydney’s most important destinations, with a story that is emblematic of the diversity of Sydney.
“I’m deeply opposed to introducing parking metres onto Oxford Street. I’ve met with Paddington residents and Oxford Street businesses, all of whom tell me parking metres are not in the public interest for Oxford Street.”
Paddington resident and President of the Paddington Society, Will Mrongovius, said: “This is a commercialisation of the Heritage Conservation Area of Paddington.
“Parking meters result in motorists driving into unmetered nearby residential streets to park as currently occurs on the Woollahra side of Oxford Street.”
On Woollahra Council’s side of Oxford Street, the northern side, there are 16 parking meters between Boundary and Queen Streets, which cover approximately 130 parking spaces.
According to Mr Mrongovius, there has been a complete lack of consultation with the community on both sides of Oxford Street on this issue.
The City of Sydney said they informed Victoria Barracks, Oxford Street Working Party and Woollahra Council of the proposal.
However, active community groups including the Paddington Darlinghurst Community Working Group, the Three Saints Project group and the Paddington Society were not consulted. Significant businesses like Berkelouw Books and Verona Cinemas were also not consulted.
This is not the first time businesses and residents have had to drop everything and join forces to fight a parking meter proposal.
Two years ago, just before Christmas, there was a push for parking meters by the City of Sydney which was resolved just last year.
Now, Ms Ritchie says the overwhelming majority support better enforcement of the existing free street parking, not paid parking.
Mr Gyory agrees: “The council’s rationale is that the meters make it easier for the rangers to enforce the current arrangements, to which we have argued that if this was simply the case, they should offer 2/4 hour FREE metered parking.”
Although the proposal to introduce meters only affects a small stretch of Paddington, the ripple effect it could send throughout the area is alarming.
Ms Ritchie explained: “Wherever they introduce the meters, like on Oxford Street, there’ll be more pressure on the residential streets behind that . . . then they’ll say okay, well we’ll put parking meters in there and then that will force the behaviour into other free parking areas”.