/ 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?

SW4 Mark says:
27 June 2013

I live in inner (but not central) London where parking is obviously at a premium. For me, the way councils use Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) and TfL manages Red Route parking are key problems. They are not joined up.

For instance, in Clapham ,my neighbourhood is split in half by two CPZs. If you happen to live in the right part of the CPZ you can park on our High Street for free using your Resident Permit if you own a car. If you don’t, you can’t and it will cost you £3 per hour to park, even though you may have a Resident Permit for a different part of the CPZ. This surely deters people from shopping locally when they can visit Tesco and park for free for 2 hours. The Council has looked into providing more short term free of charge bays – these should be encouraged but some are now withdrawn as the Council chases revenue. That revenue is coming from their own local residents who own cars and therefore are likely to have paid for a CPZ permit.

As regards Red Routes, our High Street is a Red Route which is understandable as it is the A24. But large amounts of space is taken up on side roads with loading zones etc and restricted parking which bears no relation to commuter traffic at peak times on the main Red Route they abut. More short term free parking could be provided which would encourage local people who are in a car (for whatever reason) to use local shops and also passing through traffic to be able to park and shop.

I welcome the Committee’ inquiry and consider they are right to look at this issue in detail.

I don’t live in London but I wonder about the economics of this. If the Council loses income by relaxing regulations, who pays the increase in tax or suffers loss of services? I guess that everyone who does not use a car will have to contribute. 🙁

SW4 Mark says:
27 June 2013

A further comment on parking enforcement. Some years ago, but I think it may still be the case, I actually received a parking fine for parking outside the Parking Shop in my local area to collect a parking permit. When I objected, I struggled to get the faceless bureaucrats to see the lunacy, let alone comedy, of not providing somewhere easy to stop, preferably free of charge, outside or at least close to the Parking Shop. The fine was imposed by a camera. I think the use of such cameras for petty parking infringements is excessive. Again, it is a revenue raising exercise purporting to be about fair parking.

Our town has adequate level parking places close enough to the shops and there is no charge to use them. The district council takes the view that providing parking places is akin to other amenities like children’s playgrounds and public parks and I think this is good policy. It also helps stave off the degeneration of the shopping and business facilities in the town centre. There is massive pull away from the centre by two huge edge-of town supermarkets that sell virtually everything you could want, provide free parking, and have fuel and car wash facilities. Free parking definitely adds to the attraction of visiting the town centre shops, banks, opticians, solicitors, hairdressers, and specialist outlets.

Many towns do not have enough space for indefinite free parking so the trick there is to generate turnover of spaces through “free for the first two hours” schemes or “max stay one hour – no return for two hours” type restrictions. Enforcement does not have to be heavy and continuous – once or twice a week at random would likely be sufficient.

A number of council that have introduced controlled parking zones have been progressively tweaking the boundaries so that residents with a permit cannot, for example, go into the town centre and park using their resident’s permit because it has taken the central area out of the zone and made it a different zone with a whole new set of charges and qualifications.

I once reckoned that for every car there needed to be at least four parking spaces; it’s only multiple use and time shift that avoids the whole urban area being covered in car parks. Town centres that concentrate shopping, business, travel, leisure, and entertainment facilities in one district within a ring of car parks will keep costs and land-use down but a good distributor road system is also essential. Supermarket operators detest multi-level parking so it is inevitable that they will site their stores on the outskirts.

Presumably, paid-for off-street parking provided by private companies is subject to VAT. Is local authority parking also subject to VAT if charges are levied? On-street parking through Pay-&-Display is VAT-exempt I believe. None of this seems very transparent, or consistent, to me.

I very much agree about the lack of transparency and consistency, John. If councils could provide a reasoned strategy for how and why they manage parking, they might attract less criticism.

It is also important that businesses are informed and involved in planning, so that they do not become victims of sudden change.

Paulj says:
27 June 2013

Unfortunately, they need to generate increasing revenues for council final salary pensions:

“£1 in every £5 of Council Tax goes on council pensions”

Sadly, most of the public paying these taxes don’t have such generous pension schemes

dadov2 says:
27 June 2013

Reading town center is expensive but still congested. Arrive at the main car parks after first hour or so of opening and you are left waiting for departures before you can enter. On exit you have to pay so quite often queuing at ticket machine ensues.

Buses are fine but sometimes heavy queues to get on (not always managing to get on first bus) and not ideal for carrying much shopping.

Unfortunately, free supermarket parking is very attractive and quicker!

Maybe local businesses could mitigate their losses, caused by customers shunning local town centre pay and display car parking for free supermarket parking, by paying for 30/60 minutes car parking for a spend in store over a certain amount? Waitrose refund parking if you spend over £5 and now my local branch is introducing cycle trailers to help customers transport their shopping home by bike. Equipped with large canvas shopping bags, the trailers will be loaned out free of charge to any Waitrose customers who wish to use them.

fizissist says:
27 June 2013

In Gedling, near Nottingham, town centre parking used to be free. Then the Conservative Administration on the Borough Council had the bright idea of charging for it. Result, empty car parks, empty shops – a football match was played in one to highlight the problem. At the the local elections in 2011, Labour took control of the Council. They brought back free parking for 2 hours.
Result, full car parks, busy shops, happy customers. ITS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. 🙂 🙂

Jason says:
27 June 2013

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

If you disagree then tell me why out of town shopping centres are so popular? Do they allow cars in the shopping centre? No, its for people only, like the local high street used to be. Ironically you have to get there by car…but they’re not allowed within 100 feet of the shops or the people using them.

Now the high street is a horrible place to be and while the car reigns supreme thats the way it’ll always be.

Of course some parking is appropriate and what I’ve said isn’t applicable to everywhere but please, look at how well good pedestrianised areas work.

Farnie says:
27 June 2013

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. You are missing the point entirely. Shopping Centres have created welcoming TRAFFIC FREE environments that people want to be in, even if it means driving there.

And if you want more evidence, there is plenty here: http://mancbikemummy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/dear-highstreet.html

fred says:
27 June 2013

I would like to be able to cycle rather than drive to my local shops (in Guildford). Unfortunately, there are no good (safe) bike routes in the town – and, in fact 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. Local authorities should be making cycling easier and safer to make our town centres better, more pleasant places to shop rather than places dominated by motor traffic.

Jon Irwin says:
27 June 2013

I live in SW London and Tooting is my closest town centre. The thing which I find most frustrating about the town centre is how it is dominated by motor traffic. It quite literally drives people away, as you can’t hear yourself think let alone talk when on the pavement.

Recent research shows that only a tiny minority of shoppers (17%) actually travel to the town centre by car, yet some traders hold the belief that car parking is essential to the viability of their stores. With most shoppers living within less than 2 miles of the town centre, why not create high quality attractive pedestrian/cycle routes to and through our town centre which would relieve congestion as more people would then choose to travel by those means.

With our population steadily getting older, we are soon going to have growing numbers of people who can no longer drive, but could still walk or cycle. Parking for pedestrians in the form of benches/seats would help, as would high quality cycle routes.

One of the advantages of shopping centres is the car free environment where you can wander from shop to shop. Most of our historic town centres are within walking distance of a good number of people as they are historic. Unfortunately we have shoe-horned in a load of cars, and insist on providing space for people to park them which makes it less pleasant to walk and cycle.

It’s time for a change.

So only 17% of shoppers travel by car, and that’s with current parking charges, I wonder how how it would go up if parking were free. Probably not alot now, as there are too many alternatives that many people are now used too. It’ll be too little too late now for the high street if parking was free. As I for one now have no idea what’s in my local town centre, so have no need to ever go there now.

At least a big Sainsbury’s is bang in the centre of Tooting, but I must agree that walking anywhere in Tooting is no fun because of the overwhelming intrusion of traffic, despite excellent public transport.

Ale says:
27 June 2013

When I go to my local high street in outer London, I ride my bike or walk.
It would be much nicer if there weren’t so many parked cars clogging it up though. They make it ugly, smelly, crowded and unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. It seems very short sighted to be trying to promote car parking over pedestrian safety, after all everyone who enters a shop does so on foot and there is after all only enough space for one car in front of each shop.
As far as I’m concerned, my local high street should be discouraging me from using my car, because once I’m in my car, I’m not going to just drive it up the road to the high street. Once I’m driving, it’s just as easy to go to a supermarket or shopping centre, so that’s where I’m going to go!

Farnie says:
27 June 2013

If anyone thinks out of town parking is free, then you are totally deluded.

The cost is just passed on to the shoppers.

Clearly though they still remain more competitive than the high street when considering all the costs involved with a shopping trip.

Crankyacid says:
27 June 2013

Relatives were delayed 30 minutes the other weekend on an otherwise 40 minute journey to visit me. The reason?
Massive queue of traffic on M60 trying to get into the Trafford Centre for it’s ‘free’ parking and it’s traffic free shopping. There is no such thing as free parking.

Tax payers have subsidised this ‘free’ parking for years with additional motorway and road infrastructure and favourable tax incentives. It’s a broken model for our lives.

gazza_d says:
27 June 2013

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 & 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. We also don’t need as much space as a person in a large saloon or 4×4.

And Fred above me – If you haven’t already, then it may be worth doing some reccies. I have managed to find some very quiet direct routes with a little investigation. We should not have to do it, but sadly in the UK that is the price for choosing the most energy and space efficient, greenest,cheapest form of transport there is 🙁

David Edge says:
27 June 2013

I agree about those who cycle or walk not wanting to subsidise car drivers. I walk to the shops because cycling is banned in central Derby, but it also encourages me to shop where I work rather than where I live.

Crankyacid says:
27 June 2013

Subsidised parking on our streets is a dead end for our cities. Why should those who choose to leave their cars at home and use alternatives bare the financial costs of those not willing to leave the car behind.

A car focused city will die under the weight of congestion anyway.

Get rid of more on street parking and use the space to widen pavements and install quality cycleways.

This isn’t about pedestrianisation or banning, just a rebalancing of power away from cars and towards people.

There is now a huge amount of research showing that this sort of improvement has a hugely positive impact on the local businesses. People who walk and cycle spend less per visit but visit more often so actually spend far more over a given period than drivers do.

Anyone in these comments complaining about parking fees has their head in the sand. Our cities are on a slow downward spiral and the best hope is to make them lovely places that you actually want to spend time in again. Cities have varied culture, history, independent retail and so much more to offer. Out of town shopping Malls will never be able to compete with such things and cities will never be able to compete with out of town Malls for parking. So don’t try.

I like pedestrian-only areas in cities. I believe that we have to keep cyclists away from pedestrians because some cyclists insist on cycling on the pavement. I was hit by a cyclist and ended up with a broken collar bone when I was young, and I have had numerous near-misses during my adult life, thanks to living in an area where cycling is popular.

Where our city and town centres are too congested for cars, let’s give top priority to pedestrians and cyclists – but keep them apart.

Crankyacid says:
27 June 2013

I am sorry for your experience but it does highlight some very particular issues.
In most cases the conflict that you describe is down to poor design. If a cyclist is on the pavement it will almost always be because the alternative feels (or is) too dangerous. I say ‘most’ because there will always be exceptions; people wilfully endangering others, but on the whole it will be people who have not been served well by car centric planning and design.

Most cyclists (and more importantly want-to-be-cyclists) would prefer to be separated from pedestrians (and obviously cars), it’s just easier that way, however there are plenty of very good examples of mixed use working well where there is no alternative.

I am personally not a big fan of large expanses of pedestrianisation as they can quickly become dead zones at certain times of day. This is avoided if there is an element of through traffic but there is plenty of scope for integration that avoids the conflict you describe with simple good design. Our biggest problem right now is that the car is priority #1 in the minds of those planning and regulating our towns and cities.

If it was just one experience I could ignore it, but I have had numerous near misses on pavements and in ‘no cycling’ zones in the university where I worked for 30 years. I want to support cycling but only if we can keep cyclists and pedestrians apart. As you say, good design is the solution.

Bear in mind that some people cannot cycle or even walk any distance, so we need to make provision for them to be taken to shops. We can still do that and get rid of cars from the busiest areas.

Where cycling is allowed in pedestrian places [including the footway], walking pace should be the maximum speed. Overall, I prefer separation over sharing the same space although physical conditions do not always allow for that; pedestrians should always have priority and cyclists should always give way.

Perhaps the answer is to require cycles to be pushed rather than ridden in pedestrian areas. I can see why cyclists don’t want to leave their bikes unattended for long, and it would not be difficult to provide cycle racks outside shops.

Iain says:
27 June 2013

I live in a town. The town centre is in the town. It takes about 5 mins to walk to the shops. What is the obsession people have with taking a tonne or more of metal everywhere with them and moaning constantly about the price of fuel, “road tax” [vehicle excise duty a tax on vehicle ownership and avoidable with a low emission vehicle] and parking. Town centres and the shops therein are easy to get to on foot, by bicycle or even public transport [you know those big things called buses that all you numpties in your cars won’t let pull out and dangerously overtake?] Parking should be charged where it is unnecessary – on main roads etc, there are car parks if you must drive. Why don’t they just make drive through out of town centres and be done with it?! The biggest things hindering accessing the local shops is the urban motorway that encircles it. Cars race around often exceeding the speed limit, racing through the lights of pedestrian crossings as they cahnge to get to the next queue. If people feel unsafe walking or cycling to their local shops, they might as well go somewhere nicer.

Charlie Holland says:
27 June 2013

Out of Town shopping centres should also have to charge for car parking. It should always be cheaper and less congested to travel by bus to the shopping centre from anywhere with a sizeable population. Using a car for a short journey is generally a misuse of the vehicle – better to use public transport, walk or cycle, for your health, for congestion, for your pocket, for the environment.

That’s great theory, Charlie, but not very practical if you need to collect a week’s groceries. I think driving the 0.7 miles to my local Tesco once is about the most sensible use I make of my car. I would rather shop somewhere other than Tesco, but don’t do that for environmental reasons.

that should read ‘to my local Tesco once a week’.

We have a really thriving high street at the moment with an unusually high number of independent traders and a lot of local support for the shops. It works well that you can stop and park for short periods for free right now, and that many of the surrounding roads are free.

But the new Bristol mayor wants to introduce permit zones all over the city and it makes me quite sad to think our high street could suffer the same fate as many of the other commenters’ towns. I understand a need to reduce congestion but the livelihoods of shopkeepers is important – as is the fact that the local shops give our area it’s own identity and atmosphere.

Dave mentioned that Waitrose are introducing cycle trailers to help customers transport their shopping home. I haven’t cycled for about thirty years and would not wish to restart in the heavy traffic in my local area. I wonder if Waitrose would consider adding a body harness to the trailers, instead of a tow bar, so us pedestrians could tow our weeks shopping home. We could then ask for a volunteer who is a regular walker to try it out and report back.

That’s a good idea. A decent sized pram with large wheels and some form of suspension would make the trek comfortable, or even a converted shopping trolley with larger wheels. I have seen the occasional shopper with a suitcase on castors, and looking at old photos and newsreels it seems that a lot of people on the continent had a barrow or trolley; perhaps their towns were more level.

I was going to nominate Wavechange to test the pedestrian trailer as s/he seems to walk a lot.

I did say that I take my car 0.7 miles to the supermarket, so I’m not sure why I have been nominated. I would be prepared to give it a go. I don’t cycle because I have a damaged leg thanks to a motorcycle accident many years ago, when I was victim of a careless driver.

As revealed before, I have both X and Y chromosomes. 🙂

Although I thought you were male, I was not sure. I nominated you for the trial of the pedestrian trailer because you mentioned that you do a lot of walking and like to walk around city centres. If your leg is a problem then perhaps John might be interested in trying out the shopping pram with enhanced suspension. I would love to see a photograph of him and his pram in Which?

Thanks, Figgerty, for your nomination. I went straight onto the John Lewis website and should like your opinion on my chosen baby carriage, the Silver Cross “Balmoral” in navy gloss at only £1.450 [before adaptations]. Glides along nicely, highly sprung, useful under-carriage, stately elegance and noble good looks . . . but enough about me, what do you think of the pram?

Thanks for letting me off, Figgerty. I have often though that it would be good to get a bit of exercise and push my groceries home from the despised supermarket I have the misfortune to live near. Like many others I hate doing anything conspicuous, so I will wait until this is common practice.