/ Money, Motoring

Your view: are parking charges killing our high streets?

Empty shop on high street

This week we invited Louise Ellman of the Transport Select Committee to start a discussion about parking charges in local town centres. So do they put you off shopping locally?

As the Chair of the Transport Committee in the House of Commons, Louise Ellman is keen to canvas your views on whether parking enforcement are killing our high streets.

The anecdotes soon started pouring in, with many of you explaining how parking charges have had dramatic effects on your local shopping areas.

William says this has been happening for a long time in his area:

‘I used to shop in my local town centre once a week, I used to park in local side roads. Then one day the council made all side roads pay and display. Not to worry you just park further out, but wait they were all pay and display too. So I stopped going. That was about 15 years ago. I now visit the town centre once or twice a year if that.’

Crankyacid tries to see how things could be done differently:

‘Imagine if your town, instead of installing parking meters, had improved pavements and made walking and cycling about more pleasant. Perhaps you would then have been tempted to visit from time to time. Maybe you would have used the opportunity to shop at somewhere independent so you had a bit of variety. You certainly would enjoy the savings to be made from using a local grocer for fruit and veg compared to a supermarket.’

Should parking be free?

Steve thinks this particular question is a no-brainer:

‘If parking was free, or a very nominal amount payable to combat abuse of the system, shoppers would flock to town centres. It’s as if councils aren’t aware that consumers now have a free alternative place to shop in their living rooms. Mary Portas isn’t the answer to everything! Try common sense once in a while.’

Figgerty says that even a bit of free parking would help:

‘My local council at one time had free parking on Sundays, this brought much needed business to our shops and allowed us to spend more time shopping without worrying about parking time.’

Carol doesn’t mind paying if she gets value for money:

‘If I can find what I want in the town centre I don’t mind paying the parking charges as I am getting a service, and expect to pay for the services I receive. However if the car park is poorly lit, dirty and smelly, which the council operated car park is, then I will not use it as my experience is not a good one.’

For Vynor Hill, parking needs to be convenient:

‘Driving in, one has to make sure there are coins in the pocket sufficient for the car parks where the machines have minds of their own. This is similar to a gnat bite, not major in itself, but annoying enough to make one think twice about going into town.’

Let’s make high streets more pleasant

For many, the reason they have abandoned their high street is because it lacks appeal. Jason says we need to focus on reducing cars to make it a more pleasant experience:

‘The worst thing to happen to our high streets is the dominance of the private car. You can’t move on the pavements or cross the road without being in serious danger – how safe do you feel taking your kids with you? And the noise and air quality is not something to be desired.’

Farnie believes that high streets need to become ‘destinations’:

‘When will people start valuing their space? Competing with shopping centres where parking is free will never work. The idea is doomed to fail. We need to work on making high streets places people want to be. Real destinations. The local crematorium is free, but it doesn’t mean I want to go there.’

Incentives for cyclists?

And many cyclists would like to see better access and incentives for those travelling by bike, like Fred:

‘I would like to be able to cycle rather than drive to my local shops. Unfortunately, there are no good (safe) bike routes in the town – and, the council has just decided not to fund any further cycling proposals. Bikes are a great way to make short shopping journeys – they take up much less road and parking space than cars, they don’t pollute, they reduce congestion.’

Gazza_d has more success cycling to his shops but thinks he should get recognition for it:

‘I cycle to my local shops as much as I possibly can as most of the time it’s quicker and a lot less hassle than driving and looking for a space.

‘When parking is provided free though, then I am effectively subsidising those car drivers as the cost of the land and car park maintenance is built into the shopping I buy. People riding bikes should receive a discount.’

Do any of these views ring true for you? As Louise explained in her Conversation:

‘I’m keen to hear directly from consumers because our Committee is in the middle of an inquiry into local authority parking enforcement. Comments from you will help to inform the questions we put to representatives of local authorities, the parking adjudicators, and the Department for Transport Minister on 8 July.’

So this is your chance to have your say – and for it to be listened to…


I resent having to pay large parking charges when visiting a town – whether shopping or leisure. The town will benefit from my custom – so the businesses should shoulder the cost of parking. I also resent not having a short period of free parking, if I just want to buy a paper or collect something from a shop for example.
But what really infuriates me is the extortionate penalty charges imposed if you overstay your time – sometimes for unavoidable reasons, sometimes for sheer forgetfullness. The charges should be sensible to deter the abusers, but not excessive. £5 would be a quite adequate charge. Scrap penalties for not paying in a short time – why should we be penalised more? There should be no need for an appeals process for such trivial offences as parking if the penalty was reasonable – it just adds uneccessary beaurocracy (or perhaps the intention is to keep people employed?).

I agree that there should be a short period of free parking, and that could be allowed anywhere in the vicinity of shops, cash dispensers, etc.

It would be good to reduce bureaucracy but a £5 fine is not likely to be a sufficient deterrent. It is likely to be seen as ‘worth the risk’ like using mobile phones when driving. I am certainly not trying to defend extortionate charges for overstaying, and would suggest trying a charge of something like £20.

I totally agree, parking charges deter me from shopping in town centre and furthermore the ridiculous minimum charge of now £ 1.10 is a complete racket as you have to pay should you have to collect a parcel from our local Post Office.If you don’t pay for the 5 minutes it takes to collect the parcel you run the risk of some person in a funny hat and a scruffy uniform fining you £ 40.00

Vulpes Expeditus says:
29 June 2013

I live in a small commuter town, so it is important to enforce strict parking controls or we would no be able to move for parked cars. However these rules should be totally relaxed after say 1500hrs so then people could visit the shops easily and not be hounded when the schools come out and you need something quickly.
This would also benefit commuters as they could visit the high street themselves when they get home.
The local Council has still to respond to my suggestion.

We have the same problem in our village – caused by the station car park charging £5 a day when you travel by train! So the roads local to the station have no parking untill 11.00 a.m. After that it is unrestricted (and free). Solves the commuter problem.

I think the high street needs to evaluate what shopper it’s trying to attract and develop the appropriate strategy. Shopping at a one-stop supermarket in a business park is a utility exercise devoid of any pleasure. The high street (assisted by short sighted town planners) has lost the battle in this area. They need to attract the shopper who is not trying to fill a supermarket trolley, but perhaps browsing for a book, an item of clothing, and perhaps a bite to eat. To attract this shopper this you need to improve the environment.

Learn from places like Poynton: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0,
or New York : http://www.americabikes.org/nyc_study_finds_protected_bicycle_lanes_boost_local_business

The ambiance was there in my neighbouring high street, I shopped, had a snack and had my hair cut there. The council doubled the parking charges and we all drifted away. Shops closed and the shopkeepers ran a very strong campaign to get the charges reduced, the council ignored them. Then a couple of more shops closed, a pound shop and coffee chains opened up, still we stayed away. Now the council have had a rethink. They reduced the parking charges to an almost acceptable level, but we still stay away, why, because it is no longer the same high street. Who pays to improve the environment now? The shopkeepers are almost bankrupt and the council will certainly do nothing all the time they have income from the pound shops and the coffee shops and more shops like that waiting to fill the vacant shops.

Perhaps Louise has the answer!

My local town not only hiked car parking charges but also changed the times to be from 8 to 6 to 8 to 8 . Inconsistently some of the car parks change the tariff to be different from 6 to 8 in the evening to a pound. From 70 p an hour ,so it should be cheaper BUT the machines are not modern enough to cope .The town has massive eating culture. I made a recent visit at 7.45 and went to pay but tried to put in 70p but was informed by the machine I should put in a pound. Yet in the same town there is another car park with a minimum charge was £1.60 It is the car park connected to the local gym so turning up for an 8.00 class is an expensive 5 mins as no plans to give you cheaper parking there! They have recently been policing it too. Gym membership is falling off and I really don’t think the council will make a connection and will eventually close the gym saying it wasn’t profitable enough or blame the recession. I think there attitude is misplaced and I am doing my damndest to avoid paying any extra fees as I think this may be profitable now but it is short term and will drive people to other towns .

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 July 2013

Another take on this subject: I didn’t used to be able to park in my own street or sometimes other nearby streets, all within easy walking distance of the centre of town, until Edinburgh Council introduced parking charges and permits. It was especially dire around Christmas. The contrast has been like night and day, and I’m delighted to pay for my permit every year. (On top of that, the permit charges differ according to your engine capacity, so we may be getting rid of townie 4x4s slowly but surely too.)

I wonder why parking outside your house in a residential road should be charged for. I think on main roads there is a case to ban parking to maintain traffic flow, but then off-street parking should be made available for residents. It seems to me that councils take every opportunity to take extra money from you when you already pay a council tax.

On the principle that the charge should be no more than the cost of issuing permits, administering the controlled parking scheme [maintaining signs and lines], and enforcement [itself largely paid for by penalties] the annual cost shoul be around £10 in an efficient authority’s area.

Roger Elphick says:
5 July 2013

A carefully managed pricing policy is necessary for on and off street parking (together with facilities such as park and ride when available) to maintain the viability of town centres. A relatively low charge for short stay parking (say up to 4 hours) is essential to encourage shoppers and visitors to use the facilities in a town centre. However, a high parking charge is necessary for all-day parking to ensure that attractive parking spaces near the town centre are not taken up by commuters in shops and offices. When available, park and ride facilities should be promoted as an attractive alternative for long stay parking. Unlimited free parking is not the answer whilst reasonable charges will help to ensure that spaces are likely to be available for relatively short stay town centre visits which will encourage the use of high street shops.

Limited free parking near shops is a good way of providing facilities for shoppers for their benefit and that of the businesses. But don’t then fleece them if they overstay with exorbitant penalties – perhaps 2 or 3 times the cost of parking after the free period.

Problem is that most local Councils rely on parking charges as a major source of revenue, which they should not have to. Town centre shops are closing because their overheads are too high and the competition from out of town shopping centres with free parking is too great. Town centre parking should be much cheaper or abolished to make it fair on the town centre shops but then where would the Council get its funds from? The root of the problem lies in the way that local authorities are funded, and considering that Central Government is going to stop making the annual grants to Councils, this makes them unsustainable unless they find new sources of revenue without raising the Council tax.

The local businesses benefit from people coming into town, and needing to park. So perhaps they should pay.
We have a number of retail parks with ample car parking that the shops surround in our small local town; two offer 2 hours free parking, one is unlimited free parking. They are private developments and so, presumably, they are funded by the shops around them. If it works privately, why not publicly? As you say, local councils chose many years ago to generate income from parking, to the detriment of the traders when the councils became greedy.

Locally we regularly have to fight attempts by our local authority to introduce charges for parking on our modest shopping street. It would absolutely kill the remaining businesses, even though some are excellent specialist shops. We’ve already had controlled residents parking imposed on many of the residential roads. This nasty little revenue raiser then spread by a ‘domino’ effect as people without permits were squeezed into fewer and fewer remaining places. It wouldn’t be quite so bad having to pay for a residents permit if it guaranteed a parking place but that’s not the case – regardless of the hours that the restrictions apply the number of cars exceeds the available spaces…. And don’t get me started on people who can’t park tidily and waste half a cars length at each end of their vehicle!

Parking for residents on a residential road could reasonably be charged for, but, as has been pointed out above, only as much as covers the cost. Part of the deal should be a dedicated space. It should have nothing to do with emissions – that is quite a separate issue and dealt with through your tax disc (and the fuel duty and VAT it costs you). Nothing to do with your council (except as a means of extracting extra money).

Stephen says:
30 May 2022

As a resident of Bristol for the last 40+ years – I utterly agree with you. Residential parking (which I voted against back in the day) is yet another stealth tax the demonized car owner is forced to stump up and pay.
We happen to live in an area of Bristol with a very high percentage of students lets. Personally I believe that students shouldn’t be allowed to bring their vehicles to Bristol (after all Bristol already offers a diverse array of alternative transports for them to utilize – those flaming orange e-scooters for starters.)
The stressful fight for one of a handful of parking spaces is an unwelcome daily ritual. I do find it unbelievable that students, in one room bedsits, are allowed to purchase year long residential car passes the exact same as permanent residents. How is this ever allowed? Surely curtailing this practice would help ease both congestion and pollution at one fell swoop.
But the real annoyance concerning student car ownership is that they rarely use their cars (again why would they need to in a city like Bristol?) I notice that student owned cars can be parked occupying the same spot for months on end. With parking spaces in Bristol at such a premium, then loosing 3 or 4 spaces in a street to permanently parked student vehicles feels like yet another slap to the face to us long suffering Bristol residents.

Many universities control parking on their campus, which is private land. For example, they may permit only those with certain disabilities to park there.

I am not aware of any legislation that would allow a ban of students or anyone else from parking on the streets.

I would like to thank everyone for their comments, which have helped to inform the Transport Committee’s thinking on our current inquiry into local authority parking enforcement. We will be questioning a number of witnesses, including a Department for Transport Minister, later this afternoon. You can watch our session live from 4.05 pm here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=13544

Andrew Morris says:
9 July 2013

Parking charges are definitely killing our town centre trade. I live in the black Country and we have two market towns fairly close together. Dudley town centre is virtually a ghost town, whilst Bilston town centre is a thriving place with a full market, several long serving independent retailers, and a few of the big names too. Guess which one has hundreds of free parking spaces?

Tav says:
22 July 2013

As someone in the retail industry –

Yes. Not only is it killing it, it’s helping online business boom which basically helps mass-market, lowest-denominator corporates which end up all being in China losing Britain money!

Over simplification it may be, but it’s true and I know this first hand.

Also, the same corporate ugliness has now trickled down to the high street where everything is a starbucks or it’s equivalent.

Shameful, disgraceful and completely unjustified.

craig anderson says:
30 July 2013

I am told that it is illegal for councils to set targets for Enforcement Officers to issue a certian number of PCN’s. I believe that these targets are, in fact, implied and there is a simple way to tell by examining the amount of money each warden earns in relation to the time worked and tickets issued. I would bet that the warden issuing 100 tickets per week is earning more that the one issuing 50 and the one issuing 10 per week would be on the unemployment line if his game did not improve. Accept the challange Louise Ellman ?