From 7pm nightly, the Inner West Council will be switching off parking meters along Norton Street in Leichhardt, as well as Darling Street in Rozelle and Balmain – which means free parking after dark.

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne hopes the changes, which he promised pre-election, will help bolster nightlife along the main streets. “The [parking] meters have been reprogrammed and signs updated, so the parking meters will now be turned off after 7pm every night,” he said in an official statement.

Byrne said residents and visitors need an incentive to return to the main drags: “The truth is there are more empty shop fronts along Norton Street in Leichhardt and Darling Street in Rozelle and Balmain than in the past.”

Since his election in September last year, Byrne has also introduced 30 minutes of free parking to all Leichhardt’s main streets. As it stands, a premium of $4 an hour is charged for parking on Darling Street for more than 30 minutes between 8am and 7pm. Only two hours of parking is allowed on weekdays and four hours on weekends.

Local businesses are backing the changes.

“It’s a really good thing because people are parking at night to dine,” says Bhavani Baumann, owner of Rozelle vegan restaurant The Green Lion. “It will help people have a more relaxing evening, and perhaps dine in for a little bit longer.” Baumann says many of her customers feel rushed through dining because they have to race off to their cars to put money in the meter. “It’s quite a walk [from the restaurant to the nearest free-parking spot], about two blocks,” she says.

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The Cottage Bar & Kitchen’s Rob Teitzel agrees it’s “a well overdue step in the right direction [that] will certainly be welcomed by local businesses.”

“It will make the experience better for those who have chosen to travel to the area for dinner by eliminating feeding-parking meters mid-dinner and having their nights ruined by receiving parking tickets,” he says.

Customers and employees “are constantly looking over their shoulders for parking rangers,” says Mark Chapman, president of the Leichhardt and Annandale Business Chamber.

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