Christchurch Hospital's new car park faces heavy criticism

Christchurch hospital car park
Christchurch hospital car park Photo credit: Newshub

By Niva Chittock for RNZ

Staff and patients at Christchurch Hospital are avoiding a brand new public car park because they cannot afford the fees or find it inaccessible.

The Tū Waka Waipapa building opened across from the hospital in November.

It was cited to help ease a near decade-long parking debacle which had seen nurses assaulted, cars stolen and patients slapped with hefty parking fines.

But Nurses Organisation delegate Erica Donovan said many of Tū Waka Waipapa's 450 parks were often empty.

"That car park has made absolutely no difference. It's not a discounted service for staff. It would be $24 a day and frankly, for most staff that is unsustainable, let alone for a lot of patients and their families," she said.

Outpatient Andrew used the cheaper Deans Avenue Park and Ride service up to four times a month instead.

"We tried that [new car park] and it came to $12 for a few hours. It kind of felt like they could have built a car park somewhere near the hospital that wasn't going to screw everyone over for an exuberant amount. Most people are struggling with the state of the economy as it is," he said.

The park and ride cost $5 for four hours and $10 for a day.

Another shuttle user said getting aboard with a walker was a hassle, but at least he got dropped right outside the hospital.

"So few disabled parks, it's ridiculous for a hospital this size. It's bloody awful. Have you tried to find a car park down there? It's about as rare as rocking horse crap," he said.

The park and ride doubled the time needed for his appointments, he said.

A woman who was rushing her niece to the Emergency Department recently got hit with a large parking ticket.

"You don't know how long you're going to be there and of course there's an extra cost. And if you actually don't remember, because of the emergency that's going on in ED for you, you don't think to go and put money in your meter, and then of course, you end up with a parking bill on top of the crisis and the trauma that you're already going through," she said.

The 35 car parks outside Christchurch Hospital's Emergency Department were the only public parks onsite.

They cost $80 per day and were managed by Wilson Parking.

The woman understood having higher parking rates in the central city, but thought hospital staff and patients deserved discounted parking.

Ngāi Tahu Property, who built the car park, said its rates were "set in line with [Christchurch] CBD rates".

Wilson Parking managed it and declined to comment.

Three other public car parks, all within a one kilometre radius, charged cheaper rates - two were also run by Wilson Parking.

Free, on-street parking nearby was favoured by staff but came with increased risks, as one of Donovan's colleagues found out six months ago.

"We had a staff member in my area have her car stolen and it ended up across the city. That was quite an awful phone call to get, I'd imagine, while you're on night shift, that your mode of transport home is now sitting across the city," she said.

The situation deteriorated further in summer, thanks to events and cricket matches at Hagley Oval, Donovan said.

It was across the road from the hospital, and also had limited car parks, so directed thousands of patrons to use the free on-street parking instead.

"Large sections around where staff park will be out of use or very busy and it just pushes people further and further out. Some colleagues park their cars in Riccarton and walk or bus to work," Donovan said.

"For myself, I bus to work because I don't want to be walking a kilometre or so after work when I've already done a 12.5 hour day."

Donovan was offered a place on the wait list for the hospital's current staff parking building when she began work there in 2019.

"And I said no, because I've got friends that have been [on the waiting list] for seven years and still haven't had their name come up."

Te Whatu Ora Waitaha Health Canterbury confirmed the current average waiting time was "approximately two years".

In 2020, it received $4.25 million from the government to help build a two-storey extension to its existing Antigua Street staff car park.

The work was delayed in 2021 until the public car park was finished so it could explore leasing some of them for staff while the extension was built.

But head of infrastructure Dr Rob Ojala said this plan was no longer being pursued.

"We have undertaken consultant work to design the extension to Christchurch Hospital's Antigua Street staff car park and look at best ways to deliver this with minimum possible disruption. Given the position of the project currently, the costs to date remain commercially sensitive," he said.

According to documents obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act, as of February 2023, $664,000 had been spent.

The total cost estimates of the project seen by RNZ ranged between $9m and $13m.