Illegal ‘residents only’ parking at beloved Sydney beach scrapped … for 15-minute zones

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An eastern suburbs council has picked a fight with the state government over parking at one of Sydney’s beloved beaches as it tries to replace unlawful “residents only” spots with a 15-minute limit for visitors.

Woollahra Council has maintained exclusive parking for residents of Watsons Bay for 50 years, but has now conceded the scheme was unlawful, and the signs must be removed, after receiving advice from a senior counsel.

Cliff Street is one of several streets near Camp Cove beach that currently has parking reserved exclusively for residents.Credit: Brook Mitchell

However, councillors’ decision on Wednesday night to replace approximately 70 “residents only” spots with “15 minutes parking – permit holders excepted” could trigger a veto by Transport for NSW, which had advised it won’t support any time limit less than an hour.

Council staff had recommended changing the 71 residents’ spaces near Camp Cove beach, plus dozens of other, unrestricted spots around Watsons Bay, to a one-hour limit, with exceptions for permit holders. To do otherwise risked intervention from the state government and removal of all restrictions ahead of a busy summer, they warned.

However, after meeting residents on Sunday over drinks at Camp Cove Reserve, Liberal councillor Mary-Lou Jarvis successfully changed the plan to a 15-minute limit. The other unrestricted spaces will remain unrestricted for now.

“We want some sort of order rather than chaos this summer. By having 15 minutes, it’s a win for residents, as well as a win for visitors,” she said. “There is a risk that the premier might decide to come over the top on this. If he does, I would say he’s being completely unreasonable.”

‘It’s an underhanded way of allowing the residents to have the exclusive parking that they want, and I don’t think it’s fair.’

Jarvis said visitors could use the 15-minute zones to drop off their beach umbrellas and Eskies, “then go and find somewhere else [to park] and spend the day at the beach by being prepared to walk a bit”.

Residents First councillor Harriet Price, the only one to oppose the plan, said 15 minutes was not long enough to unload gear and set kids up on the beach, especially for a single mother or father.

“It’s an underhanded way of allowing the residents to have the exclusive parking that they want, and I don’t think it’s fair. We have an obligation to 49,000 other ratepayers within the municipality,” she said.

But Jarvis said it was “quite ludicrous” to suggest a single parent would leave their children alone on the beach while they found all-day parking, citing the disappearance of the Beaumont children from Glenelg Beach in Adelaide in 1966.

Hugely popular in summer, Camp Cove is under additional pressure due to the closure of nearby Nielsen Park for maintenance.Credit: Edwina Pickles

Watsons Bay Association member Andrew Maloney said residents supported the 15-minute option. “You can have half the suburb as a drop-off zone,” he said. It was also good for the council as “a 15-minute zone means the rangers can actually book more people faster”, he added.

Greens councillor Nicola Grieve said Watsons Bay residents wanted to share their community and noted their preferred option left more unrestricted spaces for visitors than staff recommended.

“This is incredibly selfless, as opposed to how they were painted in the media,” she said. “It is a really rare occasion that you see a community like this actually thinking of others.”

The scheme will operate on a trial basis for six months while the council works on a permanent alternative. If Transport for NSW objects to the proposal, it could appeal to the Regional Traffic Committee for a binding ruling.

NSW Premier Chris Minns says Sydney’s beaches are for everybody.Credit: Jessica Hromas

Councillor Merrill Witt asked whether Transport had been “properly briefed about the unique circumstances of Watsons Bay”, especially its congestion problems, topography and heritage.

Woollahra Council’s infrastructure director Tom O’Hanlon said Transport had no regard for such peculiarities. “They apply rules across the whole of NSW,” he said. “They’ve told us they will not support a permanent parking system that’s less than an hour, anywhere.”

Premier Chris Minns previously criticised the council’s attempts to preserve parking for residents only, saying Sydney’s beaches were for everybody.

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