Free parking extended in Lonsdale St

Jim Memeti at the advent of the free-parking trial in a vacant Lonsdale Street service lane in 2019. 188586_02 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A 12-month free parking trial in central Dandenong will be extended to help struggling traders who have been further ravaged by Covid-19.

The trial was initiated by Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti to help return Lonsdale Street to its “heyday” from July 2019 to June 2020.

It will be extended, with further reinvigoration measures, until 30 June 2021.

A council report into the trial found that free parking and other controls had not been “transformative” but worthy of persistence.

“Covid 19 continues to be a significant factor in declining economic activity with recovery likely to take several months with possible longer term implications.”

New measures will include footpath dining permits throughout Greater Dandenong, and changing parking time-limits in Lonsdale Street service lanes.

The council will also explore the use of parking sensors and increased car parking spaces.

Free parking had increased “congestion and circulation” during the busiest periods, the council report noted.

New parking time-limts would help address a shortage of parking spaces in peak times.

Cr Matthew Kirwan welcomed the free footpath dining permits for the whole municipality. He successfully pushed for the additional waiving of fees for A-Frame footpath signs.

The council will also review the general lack of advertising signs and goods displayed on footpaths in central Dandenong.

“Encouraging footpath dining is something I have been pushing for,” Cr Kirwan said.

“Our current fees for footpath dining is discouraging this happening in shopping strips like Hemmings Street.

“Our shopping strips – Hemmings Street, Brady Road and Railway Parade are ideal for developing, post-Covid-19, a cafe culture and eliminating fees for such permits is crucial to incentivising it.”

He said the “difficult retail conditions” had been made more harsh due to Covid-19 keeping office workers at home and more people out of work.

Last year, the council reported some parts of Dandenong’s CBD such as the Market, the Plaza, and the Afghan and Little India precincts as thriving.

However, outside of those “magnet” areas, retailers were struggling.

The exodus of seven bank branches from Lonsdale Street had left large vacant spaces – though the vacancy rate was in line with other Melbourne shopping strips, the report said.

“Put simply, there is little reason for people to go to the non-magnet areas of the Dandenong Activity Centre unless they are accessing a specific destination niche offer.”