Re-Think! Parking on High Street (2)

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

by: Qurius

There is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence, opinion and speculation over the relationship between car parking provision and town centre prosperity. Somewhat paradoxically this ranges from arguments suggesting that;

  • ‘greater accessibility for cars on the high street will increase the viability of town centres by improving trading for businesses’ to
  • ‘restricting accessibility for cars on the high street will increase the viability of town centres by cutting congestion and pollution whilst making the high street more pedestrian friendly and increasing dwell time’.

It is not necessarily the aim here to identify a definitive link, which bridges car parking provision and the health, or otherwise, of a town centre. The issues that impact on the health of a town centre are various, multi-faceted, overlapping and ultimately complex.

The size of the centre, the public transport alternatives, consumer demographics, the composition and quality of the retail and leisure offer, the proximity of competing destinations, and many more issues, all play their part in the decision-making process for the consumer. Finding that definitive link may remain elusive.

What is easier to demonstrate is that some owners and operators, to the frustration of motorists, parking managers and businesses, do not take these factors into account when determining their car parking provision. Other factors may dictate provision such as;

  • a desire to alter the behaviour of motorists,
  • to cover the costs and
  • reinvest in the existing car parking provision.

Think progressively and strategically

We're concerned with helping local authorities and private car park operators to think progressively and strategically about the role car parking provision plays in the vibrancy of town centres and consequently produce sensible parking management policies.

  • It is about ensuring revenue generation is not the exclusive objective of parking provision in the town centre.
  • It is about helping the business community to understand the reasons why restricting provision through a range of measures, including tariffs, can sometimes play a positive role in supporting the town centre.
  • It is about promoting the need for both vision and compromise in the creation of plans for car parking provision.

Local authorities depend on revenue from business rates, a drop will mean a deflated budget for them. This provides a financial incentive for sustainable economic policies at a local level putting the emphasis on local government to support its business community.

Consequently, car parking charges cannot be viewed one dimensionally as a simple revenue source for local authorities. If such charges damage the viability of a town centre it will have a knock-on effect on the resources available to the authority.

Car parking charges must be viewed more holistically as part of an accessibility strategy for town centres which takes into account the need to promote its businesses. Such a strategy should lead to the intelligent utilisation of parking provision to support the town centre.

  • It may mean free parking, but not necessarily.
  • It could equally mean the alteration of charges to moderate demand or to reinvest revenue in high quality public transport alternatives.

There is no such thing as a free parking space

It is important to remember that in reality there is no such thing as a free parking space; someone, somewhere is paying for it to be provided, serviced and maintained. The important question is who?

  • Local authority tax payers,
  • local businesses,
  • residents,
  • or the users?

Ultimately, local government must begin to view health of the local business community as the health of their own organisation and implement policies that support local businesses.

*Car park provision refers to a broad set of factors; While the most talked about factor is tariffs, others such as the structure of the tariff, location of the car park, quantity of spaces, designation of spaces for disabled users, safety and security measures and payment methods are also included.

A liberal extract from 'Re-Think! Parking on the High Street', an exploration and collation of evidence and learnings regarding the relationship between car parking provision and town centre prosperity - by the Association of Town & City Management (ATCM), the British Parking Association (BPA), Springboard Research Ltd and Parking Data & Research International (PDRI).