Parks and verges around some of Wollongong's busiest beaches could be turned into temporary parking spaces this summer, if one councillor's plans to combat high traffic volumes are put into action.
Deputy Mayor Tania Brown has strongly dismissed recent suggestions that paid parking should be installed at Wollongong beaches as a way to manage congestion, calling this a "tourism tax" that would unfairly disadvantage many people.
Instead, she will ask council staff to look into several quick fixes to help alleviate the strain on beaches like Austinmer, Thirroul, Stanwell Park, Port Kembla and those in Wollongong.
As well as "pop-up" car parks, these could include better promotion of some of the city's less popular beaches - like Fairy Meadow and Bellambi - and a campaign to change residents' behaviour so they use the free shuttle to access the Wollongong foreshore.
Cr Brown noted the council was expected to release its long-awaited Foreshore Parking Strategy in December, but said more urgent action was needed given the huge influx of beachgoers the city had already experienced.
"I just felt with the congestion that we experienced around beaches over the long weekend, and because it's fairly obvious that with no international travel our domestic market is going to be fairly busy this summer, that I wanted to get staff to think about what we can activate early,"
"We've been told they need another eight weeks on the foreshore strategy, but I don't believe we've got eight weeks to sit back and wait."
She said the council needed to "think outside the box" and look at temporary solutions to provide traffic relief this summer.
For instance, she has suggested pop-up parking opportunities could be investigated in very busy areas, like Stuart Park, City Beach, Thirroul and Austinmer.
"When the Wiggles came to Entertainment Centre a few years ago, everyone parked on the verge and got booked," she said.
"But maybe there are some areas that we could allow that sort of parking in a formal way - we could put up barriers and signs to say this is permitted just for this weekend."
She said the council could also look at ways to encourage people to visit other beaches, noting Wollongong had 17 patrolled beaches but that those like Sandon Point, Thirroul and North Wollongong tended to bear the brunt of the extra traffic.
"Anecdotally, I've been told that Bellambi, Fairy Meadow and beaches around Port Kembla are more quiet, and I think with COVID people are more attuned to looking at messaging so perhaps we could use signage to tell them which beaches are busy," she said.
Additionally, residents must be encouraged to change the way they access the beaches, she said.
"In the CBD and surrounding suburbs, people don't think to the free bus, which the council pays for, to get to the beach," she said.
"If you park at Fairy Meadow you can get the free bus to outside the Novotel and be directly in the middle of that beach side precinct. It's about changing behaviour of residents and reminding people that the bus is there and it's free."
Cr Brown will present these ideas to other councillors next Monday, and urge council staff to bring forward these ideas so they can be put in place before the peak of summer.
Earlier this month, a Wollongong real estate agent controversially suggested parking meters should be installed along Wollongong's foreshore as a way to reduce congestion.
East Corrimal businessman Leigh Stewart complained that some visitors who were "taking advantage of the region" by visiting beaches all-day and not spending money. He suggested parking meters for non-residents would "make going to the beach more fair and equitable".
Cr Brown said she could not support this type of "tourism tax" and added it would cost the council far more money to install and operate beach parking meters than they would take in.
"Our beaches are for our whole community and if someone from Picton wants to come and enjoy them, then they should be able to and we shouldn't be saying only those in postcode 2500 can park for free," she said.
"It should be the Australian way - anyone should be able to access our beaches - and if you don't want to spend money while you're doing that, then that's ok too."