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Is Orange Council about to do a 180 on Lords Place parking?

June 28, 2023

15-minute spots now in peril. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

An attempt by Orange City Council (OCC) to soothe critics of the hugely controversial $1.4 million Lords Place makeover appears to have backfired.

On Wednesday afternoon OCC released a media statement saying it wanted to survey businesses on Lords Place about whether the recently introduced 15-minute and 30-minute parking zones should be axed.

It's a remarkable development in The Saga of Lords Place, which has dragged on for nearly a year.

In August 2022 a staff report to Orange councillors recommended proposed plans for redeveloping Lords Place between Summer and Kite streets in the CBD should go on public exhibition.

The plans included the information that 23 of the 67 parking spaces on Lords Place south would be removed.

Aware of bubbling discontent about what the makeover would mean for parking, councillors instead voted to defer the public exhibition until further reports on parking and traffic flows were presented.

On September 6, 2022, following an updated staff report to councillors, which proposed cutting time zone limits on that section of Lords Place to 15 and 30 minutes, council voted for the plans to go on public exhibition.

Six days later veteran councillor Kevin Duffy told The Orange News Examiner he was not interested in the results of a public exhibition process: "Let me assure you, I'll be voting against it."

On September 15, 2022, OCC's media wing issued a statement explaining that even though 34 percent of the parking spots were being wiped out, the all-new Lords Place would actually provide "a better level of service and more parking opportunities".

And how would OCC achieve this miraculous feat?

"Proposed changes to parking times in Lord Place south will add close to 200 parking opportunities a day to the street," the council statement read.

"Under the current parking arrangements there are 603 parking opportunities across a 9-hour day in the block of Lords Place between Kite and Summer streets.

"Under the proposed changes to introduce half-hour time limits for angle parking and 15 minutes for parallel parking, there will be 792 parking opportunities across a 9-hour day in Lords Place between Summer and Kite streets."

In an attempt to deliver a plan that councillors would vote to put on public exhibition, staff had simply slashed the parking time limits, and it worked.

The period for public comment ended on September 28, 2022, and council staff reported back to councillors that although there was clear division over the redevelopment, a slim majority supported it.

Those against it, however, have queried the methodology, including how survey questions were phrased.

When Orange City councillors voted on the redevelopment on the evening of October 18, 2022, work crews were standing by waiting for the green light.

They got it, with nine councillors voting for the project and three against. The redevelopment commenced immediately as workers moved swiftly to start placing bollards and traffic cones along the street.

Depending on who you spoke to, this eyebrow-raising enthusiasm was either down to a tight deadline for spending the state government money, or a signal to business and the community that this thing was going ahead no matter what.

One of the key issues for members of the community, and the businesses than lined Lords Place between Summer and Kite streets, was the reduction in parking spaces by 23 spots - from 67 to 44.

In mid-November 2022 council staff admitted that design problems meant that even more parking spaces could be lost. They also said that businesses did not want Astroturf laid, and that the idea had been junked.

In late November 2022 councillor Kevin Duffy - who voted against the redevelopment, along with councillors Jeff Whitton and Francers Kinghorne - told The Orange News Examiner that the "whole process is a fiasco".

"To me it’s how to stab your residents and ratepayers in the back, especially the elderly," Duffy said.

"One of the criteria [of the redesign] is to promote economic stimulus, [but] some businesses have been decimated in this process. I have had business owners burst into tears over this."

The makeover is funded by $900,000 from council and a $500,000 state government Shared Spaces Program grant. The program is for trial projects that test permanent changes that “strengthen the amenity, accessibility and economic vitality of a high street and surrounding area”.

On Wednesday (June 28, 2023) afternoon OCC released a statement.

"As part of the ongoing review of the Lords Place south upgrade Orange City Council is seeking feedback from businesses on parking times," it said.

The statement quoted director of technical services Ian Greenham: "We already have verbal feedback that 15-minute spaces suit some businesses but it is not ideal for others. The same can be said for 30-minute spaces."

He said that OCC was "aiming to get the balance right between steady turnover, and providing the length of parking stays that drivers and shoppers need".

"A close assessment has shown that there are consistently vacant parking spaces in that block which aren’t being used, and businesses are telling us longer stay parking in Lords Place could be what’s needed,” Greenham said.

Business feedback and parking data "would be assessed and reported to an upcoming meeting of council".

“We have a range of parking vacancy rates in the precinct that support some tweaking," he said. "Parking is a complex issue and when we change a limit in one site it can impact on parking in other areas. We will continue to monitor the project."

Business owners on Lords Place have told The Orange News Examiner that customers have expressed worries about being booked in the 15-minute spots.

Parking tickets have already been issued on Lords Place, but in May one source with knowledge of OCC's parking operations said there was an unspoken rule that people would only be booked if they stayed more than 15 minutes over signposted time limits.

However this generosity of spirit is not official.

The owner of a cafe that is not on Lords Place said that in recent weeks new customers had told him they'd given up on Lords Place.

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