/ 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?

Julia says:
28 June 2013

I think Car parking charges certainly put people off ,They are frightened of overstaying and then paying a penalty . It’s happened to me . Why don’t the councils just have a a few hours a day when you can park for FREE or just not charge at all . I use the out of town Retail parks a lot . I never stop in my local town if I have to PAY for PARKING .

Parking in Edinburgh is very difficult. The car parks are tucked away and difficult to get to (has anyone ever worked out how to get to Riego Street car park at the west end?) The on- street parking expensive and scarce (£3.00 an hour and sometimes restrictions on no more than 2 hours.) So , if you can find the car parks then you have to trek a bit to the shops. The best car park is at the St James Centre, but it is an eye watering £4.90 minimum charge for 2 hours. I agree with most people that out of town retail parks are best, because if you buy anything bulky then buses are not really the answer for lugging stuff ho me. And don’t even mention taking the bike, which is fine if you only want to buy a memory card for your laptop…

Here in North London a series of ever complicated and onerous parking restrictions have been imposed over recent years. First it was pay by phone – which included a “service charge” in addition to the cost of parking, but was far too complicated and time consuming for many people to use, particularly for a short stop.
Clearly a balance is required between uncontrolled parking and extortionate parking costs, our council has viewed parking as a cash cow. The irony now being that as shops close and people stop coming, council revenues drop, their short sighted view has cost them revenue in the long term.
We also have a direct comparison with small privately owned shopping centre, where parking remains easy and a sensible price – this remains popular with shoppers and appears to avoiding the worst of the shop closures.
Although in the past year some more user friendly parking meters have started to be installed, the local high streets have been severely impacted, with many boarded up shops. Many people now prefer to travel to the larger shopping malls where parking is free, and the cost of fuel is more than compensated for by saving the exorbitant parking cost. I fear many with not return to their local shops, and whole communities will lose out.

A lovely perambulator indeed, especially the pink one. I know Silver Cross is a Royal favourite but you are only going to use it to carry your weekly groceries from your local supermarket to your home. It’s a tad expensive for that. Perhaps we should wait until Waitrose introduce their bike trailer to see how it will work and where it is parked when the cyclist reaches the store. I have seen people shopping with a suitcase on wheels but I thought they were shoplifting for their holidays.

I don’t like parking rules that are irrational,incomprehensible, or both. My local MBC,Solihull, recently changed the rules on some of their car parks. Basically, you could park for free for up to 3 hours. That was the headline but the small print said you had to obtain a ticket. A large number of innocent people got caught out and fined for observing the headline but not the small print. Furthermore, on the occasions I have obtained a ticket , the ticket has given me authority to park for free until midnight. What kind of madness is it to let people park park for free until midnight if they obtain a ticket yet fine those who fail to obtain a ticket to park for free, after only a few minutes.

Jim Hassett says:
29 June 2013

Why would I pay to shop in a town when I can shop free at an out of town Mall?
I would prefer to shop in town, but any bargains are not a bargain when you add parking charges!
If you have paid for say 2 hours parking you have to rush to make sure you don’t get a ticket!

jane fleming says:
29 June 2013

Wisbech and Whittlesey still have free parking. That is why we shop there. Wisbech have recently introduced central area parking meters to deter double parking but the perimeter car parks are free.
If all become parking meter zones the only winner will be Tesco.

John says:
29 June 2013

I don’t live in London, but the parking restrictions here have definitely killed of business, only about 30% of the shops are still here on our main road now. All the backstreets are now double yellow lines or controlled zones, There is fairly ample parking (at cost) and it is used but for any one just wanting to nip to the bank or buy a few things it’s not worth it. The controlled zones are a joke, most of the people that live there either don’t have cars, don’t need to park on the street or are out at work all day so in the shop hours there are practically empty streets. Many times I drive through our town and another nearby which is even worse as it has limited pay car parks and think I’d like to park and look in a few shops but it’s not worth it, so like many I either buy online or go to a supermarket with lots of free parking.

Steve bird says:
30 June 2013

Local high street parking fees in Bristol dicourage me and my family from shopping in town.So we always shop out of town when possible.It is a tax on shopping!

We’ve rounded up many of your comments in this new post: https://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/your-view-are-parking-charges-killing-our-high-streets/

Have a look to see if you’re featured!

Alexander Valentine says:
2 July 2013

Perth appears to have even more restrictive parking than larger cities, including Edinburgh, with wardens operating on Sundays. Perhaps one of the best features that could be introduced (especially but not exclusively,for those like myself, who are temporarily disabled but do not have a disabled badge) would be a ticket which allowed drivers to move from one car park to others, rather than having to pay every time it proved necessary to move. This would be particularly practical where parking times are very restrictive as disabled walkers cannot get round many shops in a limited time.

There seems little doubt that councils favour larger stores on town outskirts and could not care less if central shops close down as, otherwise, all parking would be charged at similar rates rather than being free at peripheral supermarkets.

Dorothea says:
4 July 2013

The problem should be considered the other way round. Out of town supermarkets offer free parking to customers – this drains town centres of their potential customers. Access to town centres on foot or by bicycle is often difficult and dangerous as over the last 50 years the mantra of town planners has been to facilitate the movement of traffic, not the movement of people. Town centres should be peopleccentred not car centred. There are lots of people who could cycle into the shops but are put off by horrible scary roads. Many European cities have a high percentage of cyclists – see
We also have an inefficient and expensive bus system in this country.
George Osborne should invist in a cycling infrastructure not wreck the countryside with his new road building plans

I agree with the last comment that says town centres should be people-centred not car-centred. That’s absolutely right. However high car park prices do discourage people from shopping. I know people who are prepared to do an extra 70 mile around trip just to avoid paying for parking. I don’t agree with this philosophy myself. However I do hate pay and display parking. I rarely know how long I will be and I never have the correct change. I don’t park often enough to recall how much the parking costs.

More should be done to encourage cycling and public transport, but more carrot and less stick please. Most of the (so-called) cycle facilities that I have seen are so badly designed that they actually make life more difficult for cyclists. I can’t see the logic of creating conflict between cyclists and pedestrians by creating shared use routes. If you have to cycle at walking pace then there’s no point cycling at all. You might as well walk or drive. Cycles are better off on the road and that’s where I prefer to cycle. If only we had less Jeremy Clarkson wannabes that think cycles should not be on the roads at all. I regularly get abuse from motorists who want to act like Mr Toad (and a lot worse too).

richard says:
8 July 2013

I have found the many local shops no longer cater for my needs – they used to 30 years ago but not now – there used to be 3 pet food shops and a pet fish shop that I used to visit weekly – now NO Pet SHOPS at all so can’t buy pet food – My local supermarket used to supply my needs now it doesn’t – I found that many shops no longer stock items I need – They are full of Ladies shoes and baby clothes – I don’t use either. No Gents clothing at all – I once spent three weeks fruitlessly looking for a particular plastic jug – only found one on the Internet with FREE delivery – The same with food items – I look for ages without finding them but find them easily on the internet with FREE DELIVERY – I actually walk my dogs for exercise three times a day and is far more enjoyable than shopping – Delivery times quoted are within 1 hour as quoted and reliable – Internet is far more convenient it has nothing to do with parking – But You try carrying 15 bags full of shopping on buses after waiting an hour each way – Internet is the way for me – cheaper and more reliable. Used to be able to buy small household items – NOT NOW –

Brian Johnson says:
8 July 2013

We have made it thoroughly tiresome to visit Derby city centre. Traffic is heavy, parking is difficult and expensive. Road repairs last for months as if the need for the public to actually use the Queen’s highway is irrelevant.
As a consequence I buy on-line or use a retailer with a customer car park if at all possible.
And why oh why do the City Council keep squandering money on yet another new shopping centre?

anneagain says:
10 July 2013

I sedulously avoid paying for parking. I pay shedloads of money to be able to move my car, both car tax (which, may I remind you, was originally the Road Fund Licence and intended to pay for road improvements but is now plundered for general taxation) and fuel duty, and I object to paying more shedloads of money to stop. I realise that there are problems in cities, and I use public transport there, but any small town that wants to charge me to park can say goodbye to my custom altogether. I vote with my steering wheel, and move on to somewhere else.

Mary says:
29 July 2013

I think trying to change a law that was in existence when people bought homes based on that law is wrong. If real research were conducted, I think you would find that people in cars are not the biggest spenders in shops on the high streets – it is pedestrians and their safety is now to be compromised. If you try to change the law or ‘tweak’ it, you merely confuse the situation and all users and as I have seen with similar changes agreed locally, some will then make it even worse. If double lines were there to stop parking, there must have been good reason for them to be put there. If you are worried about parking vehicles, then more investigation to provide free parking without trying to change existing legal road markings is what is needed. I would oppose changing laws in such a way.

Amanda says:
30 July 2013

I can see why reduced rates for parking would maybe encourage me to visit town centres, but my decisions are much more heavily influenced by other factors; I would much prefer to use public transport but this option seems to be forgotten – why not invest in more frequent services or reduce bus and/or train fares? Making fares even cheaper for kids might help. Also, my reasons for visiting an out of town mall would be for the size and range of shops, not necessarily the free parking. Revive the city centres and put in new developments, and I would happily never visit Meadowhall again. Most of the people I know hate the place and only use it out of necessity, they like me would rather enjoy the out of doors rather than the synthetic shopping environment. Also, whilst in a town centre you can often throw in a cultural activity to make the day more enjoyable and even educate your kids! Relaxing the double yellow lines seems to be another poorly thought through idea designed to appeal to the masses, which will cause chaos. Leave the areas close to shops for those who hold disabled badges, and let those who are in too much of a hurry adjust their priorities and walk a few minutes from a car park! Its about time everybody stopped exacerbating this culture that we ‘must travel by car’, ‘everything must be convenient’, ‘we must get parked as close as possible’. These kinds of attitudes promote laziness and are both mentally and physically unhealthy. There are bound to be some people who think that I am forgetting those who are less mobile – I’m not, but in my experience the folk who are determined to park closest, shop quickest, and often cause inconvenience to others are not usually those with mobility problems, but those with priority issues! Please let’s just make it easier and more pleasant to WALK and it may do us all some good.

I don’t object to reasonable parking charges but if you have to pay a couple of quid every time you want to go to the butchers/greengrocers (some of us still try to) it does put you off. My local town has a car park that only costs 30p per hour which is fine. However it’s often not the price that’s the problem it’s the fact that even when you’re paying there’s not enough spaces, it puts me off having to stalk around a car park all of you playing a game to see who times it just right to get a spot. To help local shops survive you need sufficient, cheap parking otherwise people don’t want waste time trying to park they’ll go to out of town shops.