/ Motoring

Does parking enforcement put you off your local high street?

Parking meter sign

In this guest post, Louise Ellman of the Transport Select Committee asks – would free parking encourage you to shop in your local town centre? Do restrictions and charges put you off?

Many people are concerned about the state of town centres and the demise of the British high street. There must be a number of reasons for this, including the current economic climate, local planning policy, parking policy, and business rates.

As the Chair of the Transport Committee in the House of Commons, I am interested in knowing whether policy is the culprit. What is it about parking that puts people off visiting their town centre?

I often wonder if it is the charge itself that people object to. Should parking be free? Is there such a thing as free parking? There is always going to be a cost associated with the maintenance and upkeep of a place where people can leave their cars. If we don’t pay for it through a parking charge, do we just end up paying for it through our Council Tax? Perhaps it doesn’t matter how we pay, as long as there is enough available.

Another thing that might be putting people off parking in their town centre is the fear of getting a penalty charge notice for unintentionally leaving your car in the wrong zone, or for overstaying in a pay and display space.

What’s the parking like in your local town centre?

I’ve heard from motoring organisations that people tend to be more willing to pay for parking if they feel they’re getting value for money. It’s about what the town centre has to offer the consumer as much as anything else. There must be more that can be done in partnership with local businesses to give the consumer a good deal.

In some areas free or cheap parking is used to encourage people into town centres, in others attractive offers are made eg two hours free parking when you buy a ticket at your local cinema, or 50p off when you buy coffee at your local cafe. Are there other good examples of policies like these in your local area?

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 adjudicators, and the Department for Transport Minister on 8 July. At the end of our inquiry we’ll be using all the information we have received to write a report with recommendations to Government on how to move forward with this issue. This is your chance to have a say.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is by Louise Ellman, Chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. All opinions expressed here are her own, not necessarily those of Which?

Jo Wise says:
9 August 2015

If the Government is serious about encouraging people to shop on their High Street rather than in out of town retail parks why don’t they remove business rates from town centre car parks. How are Local Authorities to provide free parking in town centres when they have to pay not just for maintenance but serious amounts of business rates to central government?

Councils keep half the business rates they collect and the remainder is pooled and redistributed by the government back to councils, so in many places business rates on public car parks would have either no impact or a positive impact on local government budgets. I believe the pooling formula takes account of the needs of different authorities such that the wealthier districts contribute to assisting the poorer areas. I should be surprised if business rates alone were a disincentive to providing free car parking in town centres; the actual operating costs of multi-storey car parks are probably the biggest deterrent because by their nature they require continuous staffing and security systems and the covered parking decks do not clean themselves like open-air car parks generally do. Multi-storeys are generally only found in big towns and city centres where parking demand exceeds supply so the charges are not an issue. The problem is mainly in smaller towns where councils operate open car parks and seem to struggle to find a balance between helping their high street and stopping the car park becoming a free space for all-day and commuter parking.

My nearest town has free parking at various council sites which certainly does make the high street more attractive and just about keeps it alive, but the damage was done when two large supermarkets and various retail sheds with hundreds of parking spaces opened on the northern and southern extremities of the built-up area. This has meant that people from the surrounding villages rarely venture into the town centre and shop on the high street so the council car parks there are never full and charging would kill local trade completely.

I rarely go to local town centres parking rules and costs are the main reason, over staying by a few minutes can also get you an eye watering fine it happened to me once twenty years ago and I have avoided pay to park ever since. Unless your borderline obsessive compulsive with your time keeping which is not a relaxing experience and makes you run away with your hastily bought purchase instead of perusing the wares on offer at your leisure you are bound to get fined at some point.

I’m actually sitting contemplating visiting my town centre at the moment but only because the things I ordered online are delayed in delivery because it’s near Christmas. My town centre has a disk system in operation I don’t have a disk and am trying to figure out how to get one without getting a fine the disks are Free and when you have one it is free to park for limited periods as long as you remember to set it correctly which is why I never go as I forgot to display it one day and almost got a fine. I made it to my car just as the parking attendant got to my row of cars that was three years ago and I have not been back since and the paper disk is nowhere to be found.

You get the disks from council offices and some shops but you have to actually park to get one. Another of these catch 22 situations that parking planners and over zealous parking attendants seem to love. I would probably just do a forty mile round trip and visit somewhere with hassle free parking except I know the local shop has what I want and the forty mile round trip may not have what I want.

So to my mind yes parking restrictions, and excessive fines really do deter me from going to my town centre I used to go regularly when restrictions were easy to understand free parking was available and fines easy to avoid

I suggest setting an alarm on your mobile phone remind you of when you need to get back to your car. There are separate timer devices that do the same job.

You can also buy more time than you expect to need. Shopping often takes longer than you imagine.