Opinion: We shouldn’t be afraid to raise parking charges

Boosting the local economy and local high streets, cutting carbon and making our transport system greener, more reliable and affordable are surely key aims of Liberal Democrats across theUK.

Between 2007 and 2010 I worked for the party in Bath.  During that time I helped to lead a campaign against increased evening parking charges that the then Conservative-run council was bringing in.  I also helped to put together an 8-point plan to boost the local economy during the recession. Included in it was a call for free parking on one day a week to encourage shoppers into Bath.  Unfortunately, I was wide of the mark with both campaigns.

Parking charges are often seen as simply method of boosting council coffers and business leaders regularly argue against increases, using quite emotional language in their arguments.

We need to look at the facts.  A recent TfL study showed that those arriving at local high streets by means other than private car spent more money per week in shops than those who do.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Car-based shoppers may be ‘nipping by’ for a solitary item, or arriving rarely for one larger shop.

People are likely to spend more time in shopping areas that provide a pleasant environment, a view which has no doubt led to a number of city centres becoming pedestrianised.

Making our local high streets places for people rather than thoroughfares for motor cars is more likely to lead to people staying longer, visiting more shops and spending more money.

In some ways I was right to oppose the increased evening parking charges. The Tory-run council wasn’t planning to use the money to boost local trade, nor was it ring-fencing it to improve public transport.  They were merely raking in more cash.

As Liberal Democrats we should be smarter.  We should listen to local people and understand what they want from the local high street.  A variety of shops, a sense of a community and a pleasant environment are likely to come higher than a free parking space.  Raising charges can act as a deterrent to taking the car, but we must also provide the carrot.

We should be prepared to increase parking charges, and introduce them in local high streets where parking is currently free.  But we should be transparent about where that money is going, redesigning our local high streets to make them people-friendly, encouraging new businesses, improving public transport links and making it easy to walk and cycle to the local shops as well as  providing somewhere secure to lock up that bicycle.

If we want to boost our local economies and green our transport, raising parking charges, and extending their hours into evenings and Sundays, could well be a crucial part of that mix.

* Matt is a former Chair of the Cardiff & Vale Liberal Democrats and was the party's candidate for Cardiff North at the 2017 General Election.

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  • Cllr Steve Bradley 15th Mar '12 - 11:30am

    Interesting stuff Matt.

    Parking charges of any sort are very unpopular – even amongst non car owners, as it still affects them via friends, family, deliveries etc. However – I would argue it’s the underlying sense of ‘you’re just ripping me off’ that lies behind much of the opposition. If there was a package that combined a clear fiscal line between parking charges + visible public realm improvements in the same area (incl making parking areas safe + visually attractive, btw, as many aren’t – particularly in the eyes of females or the elderly), with cutting out the infuriating over-zealousness of parking enforcers, then I’d like to hope a new ‘compact’ could be reached with some drivers over charges. But few councils would be happy to tie their hands with ring-fenced income, + the adage remains that there’s no votes in parking!

  • Jonathan Price 15th Mar '12 - 11:50am

    I can’t believe I am reading this on LibDem Voice. It is such palpable nonsense. Has the writer ever spoken to a shop owner on a high street? Does the writer even own a car? Perhaps he just never wants to be elected again.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 15th Mar '12 - 12:50pm

    I’m afraid Matt just isn’t recognising the commercial reality of the world we live in – ask any town centre retailer what the impact is of increasing parking charges then they will tell you that it will reduce the level of their business, reduce footfall on the high street, and will actaully result in people making often longer car journeys to out of town shopping centres which provide free parking. The large retailers don’t complain about this because they prefer the captive audiences and economies of scale that are available to them in out of town shopping centres.

    The retailers will also tell you what encourages trade in town centres – and it will include such things as pedestrianisation and decent park and ride schemes, which reduce the hassle in finding parking spaces etc.

    Many town centres are now pretty much dying on their feet because of thinking such as this . People with families are not going to do their weekly shops in high steets by being encouraged onto bicycles by high parking charges. Not that I’ve anything against walking or cycling – but my local council (Tories abetted by useful idiots) seems to have a policy of forcing people to use their paid car parks by placing meters on all streets within a quite lengthy (and extending walking distance of the town centre – with the result that the central car parks and town centre have more traffic and congestion. If you want proper town centres serving communities I’m afraid you need rather more joined up thinking than is offered by this post.

  • Richard Dean 15th Mar '12 - 1:27pm

    Has anyone asked local residents what they want? In Epping, Essex, the local high street is anything up to a mile or more from where local residents live. Same in other small towns across the UK. So what local residents would probably prefer is free parking for locals. And of course the shops there want people to be encouraged to visit.

  • Cllr Steve Bradley 15th Mar '12 - 2:25pm

    Richard Dean –

    Whilst I accept much of what you’ve written above, and know from my own experience as a councillor what a turd sandwich the issue of parking is – there is a bigger societal conundrum burrowed in in what you wrote. And that is – what has gone wrong whereby people living a mile or less from shops no longer feel that they want to use any other mode of transport to get there and back other than a car ? And that they also feel they have a right to park once they get there – regardless of supply restrictions ?

    There are obviously some people who have no choice but to drive such a distance due to age, disability etc. At times the weather will also make driving a necessity for many, or when the bulk of shopping being collected requires assistance in physically moving it. But those are all marginal examples which don’t detract from the fundamental point. Which is – what sort of society have we created in which people no longer want to walk or cycle a distance as short as a mile, and see it instead as an inalienable right to drive that distance and park instead, regardless of environmental and social impacts ?

    We should be working on the cultural shift needed to ensure people no longer view 1 mile car journies to buy a pint of milk as an essential right regardless of impact, rather than demanding more and more parking at a lower and lower price.

    Another fundamnetal problem is the lack of balance in parking provision. small local shops invariably don’t have the space or resources to provide parking. Large chain stores do. Hence, in our car-dominated society, local shops suffer.
    Perhaps if large out of town stores and big supermarkets were levied for the car parking spaces they provide for free, that income could then be used to invest in improving transport solutions for people who visit local shops. For example – in my neck of the woods (Brixton) we have a community social enterprise which uses battery-powered electric trailer bikes to collect and deliver people’s shopping from the local market. Think of it as a bicycle-powered, locally provided alternative to Ocado. It therefore cuts out traffic, pollution and over-demand for parking whilst also supporting local shops, creating employment and providing a real service for people.

    There are alternatives to car-based shopping – particularly when the distances involved are absurdly short. Until we start to thnk beyond the social hegemony of motor vehicles we will remain trapped in the concept of more and more parking spaces and the inalienable right to drive as the only solution.

  • Matt H (author) 15th Mar '12 - 3:11pm

    Firstly, thanks for all the comments! Keep them coming. I’ve got time for a quick reply now but will try to come back more later.

    Steve Bradley makes some very good points above, so there is no need for me to repeat all of them, but he does hit the nail on the head when he asks what has made it the case that someone living a mile from their local shops feels that driving to them is crucial?

    Local business owners often hear the gripes of people who “can’t find anywhere to park/cost me a fortune to park”, but rarely to we survey those visiting local shops and those who would like to, to find out what is important to them

    The twenty minute free parking example is interesting. However, 20 minutes isn’t really a lot of time to walk down an local high street, chat to friends, enter a handful of shops etc. It likely encourages short visits to pick up solitary items. I think I’d be in favour of 20 minute free parking periods, dependent on how the street was designed.

    One thing for me is paramount. Raising parking charges and just putting them into the general pot is likely to be unhelpful and unpopular. But raising charges and using that money to provide a more pleasant and engaging area to shop could well be part of a solution. However, there isn’t going to be a one size fits all solution, it wouldn’t work everywhere.

    If you go out and talk to people a lot of them like the idea of not having to use their car to get around, but they don’t feel there are other practical solutions. In many cases this is reality. There has to be carrot as well as stick, and using income from parking charges effectively can be part of that mix.

    In response to Jonathan Price – interesting that you feel this is about ‘car drivers’. I think this is an issue about people, jobs and our local communities.

  • Scott Berry 15th Mar '12 - 3:45pm

    I live in Oxford; the parking is extortionate in the town centre, certainly if you plan on staying for more than an hour or two, but there is a fantastic public transport from the suburbs into the centre (buses pick up 2 minutes walk from my house every 5 minutes from 8 till 6, and less frequently before that and into the early hours, and it’s similar for most places) and there is a fantastic park and ride system for those coming from further away (although there were recently moves to start charging to park there as well as for the buses).
    The point is the idea explained in the article can work, but one point I will make is this; it works in Oxford because of the size and nature of the place, most people are going from home to the town centre or back (i.e. not around the outskirts) and there are enough people making that journey that the bus routes can run profitably without being too expensive (I’m don’t think the buses are subsidised, I think the council only pays to run the park and ride car parks). It will depend on your area, and the town I lived in before (Taunton, fairly small town in Somerset) it couldn’t work because from my house to the town centre was 1 bus that ran once an hour, was normally empty and therefore had to be heavily subsidies. That’s not because Taunton or Somerset Council were bad, but there wasn’t the volume of people travelling the same routes so it unfortunately was difficult to find a viable system using anything but cars, so parking had to be affordable. I guess my point is it depends on the town/city and situation what is feasible, I think this article is probably too generalised to apply to many situations (although from what little I know of Bath it could perhaps use a system not dissimilar from Oxfords with its size and layout).

  • Matt Hemsley 15th Mar '12 - 4:37pm

    Scott, you are right that everywhere is going to be slightly different. There also local high streets in suburbs that are losing trade, either to city centres or out of town supermarkets. All too often these can feel like car thoroughfares, rather than a place for people. However, if you simply increased/introduced parking charges with nothing else, then you almost certainly would just drive business away.

  • Matt,

    Parking charges are an area where economic theory and transport planning meet a wall of dissent on the ground. I am always reminded of Vince Cable’s reported experience during the banking and financial crisis of 2008/2009. Vince was appearing in TV and News media virtually night and day during that period. However, he kept up his regular constituency surgeries in Twickenham during the run-up to the 2010 elections. The most common issue raised by his constituents – not the banking collapse, international economic situation or even the unemployment crisis, but parking fines and charges.

  • What a brilliant idea, Parking Tax! I definately feel that as a motorist I do not contribute enough to the nation’s coffers so would love nothing more than to pile money into the pot! Don’t tell me, it would be ‘ring fenced’ but that just means government no longer have to contribute to the cause! If only the bright future of our councils would appreciate taxing people is not the only way to generate interest in much local high streets. Instead we should be educating the public that paying 8p for a leg of lamb in a supermarket isn’t good for anyone in the long term. Buy local, pay the premium prices and benefit from the boost to the economy in the local area! Don’t go adding extra costs because that will just encourage more people to go to supermarkets or Internet shopping and the more we do that the less chance we will end up living in little America! Matt, you were right first time! Sustainable transport is important but not at the cost of the local high streets.

  • When people compare town centre parking (expensive, limited) with out-of-town shopping centres (masses of free parking), they’re not really comparing like with like. Out-of-town centres were typically built on greenfield, or brownfield sites with plenty of land to build car parks. Town centres often have narrow streets and historic buildings, and need to strike a balance between car users and public transport, cyclists, pedestrians, taxis, delivery vehicles, and so on, hence parking space is a much scarcer (and costlier) commodity.

    I also fail to understand the shock which greets the notion of a council raising money through parking charges. In these difficult times, councils are having to find many ways of raising extra revenue to avoid eve n more drastic cuts in services . If I have to pay to use my local leisure centre, what’s so terrible about having to pay to park my car? Interestingly, in my local council’s budget consultation, a large majority of residents were in favour of higher parking costs, compared to some of the unpalatable alternatives on offer.

  • Cllr Steve Bradley 16th Mar '12 - 1:05am

    John – I wasn’t suggestiung that out of town shopping areas and town centre areas are similar. Whetehr they are or not is irrelevant.

    What is important is that one provides masses of free parking whilst the other provides a limited amount, usually with charges. So guess which one motorists tend to prefer ? Is it any wonder that High Streets can’t compete ?

  • Tracy Connell 16th Mar '12 - 8:10am

    In Newcastle they have made some parking after 5 pm and on Sundays free in order to draw shoppers into the City Centre. Rather than pay money for car parks I think it better for the local economy that the money is spend in local businesses. It’s that that we need the most to get some growth going.

    Also – I think parking should be free in hospitals. Why can’t hospital car parks be sponsored by companies, eg like Nissan, who are doing well?

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