Friday, 8 February 2013

Parking, Prosperity and the High Street: Challenging the Myths

The decline of the British High Street has an obvious cause, right? High charges for car parking. Wrong, according to two reports published in the last couple of months.
The first of the reports, which has attracted a fair amount of press coverage, a lot of it misleading, is called Re-Think! Parking on the High Street: Guidance on Parking Provision in Town and City Centres. On page 5 of the report we find the following key finding:

“These findings….do not conclusively demonstrate that parking tariffs are influencing decline in locations across the UK, or suggest that all centres in the specified range have tariffs higher than the national average. They do however suggest that further research is needed over time to learn more about the relationship between town centre prosperity and parking tariffs and that mid-range and smaller centres in particular, must play a role here.”

And as the Chief Executive of the Association of Town & City Management, one of the report’s publishers, goes on to point out, Parking is not a universal panacea and free parking certainly is not. There is evidence that suggests towns and cities can thrive in cases where parking has been significantly reduced. Parking carries an opportunity cost for other uses such as leisure, business and residential. Yet, the car cannot transport the same quantity of people as public alternatives.”

Factors influencing town centre success 
The other report, The Relevance Of Parking In The Success Of Urban Centres: A Review For London Councils, was carried out for London councils and published in October 2012, based on a review of academic literature and other reports. It showed that there was relatively little research carried out into the link between parking and urban centre success. Where there was research, it was often not backed up by survey data or other robust evidence.
However, where there was research, the authors note the following main findings:

  • More parking does not necessarily mean greater commercial success. A well managed parking scheme, where spaces ‘turn over’ frequently can help to increase the number of visitors coming to a town centre and thereby help business.
  • There is no such thing as ‘free’ parking. The costs of developing and maintaining parking spaces and then enforcing proper use to ensure good traffic flow have to be borne by somebody. In the case of local authority operated parking (on street or off street) any costs that are not covered by parking revenue falls to local Council Tax payers.
  • Shopkeepers consistently overestimate the share of their customers coming by car. In some cases, this is by a factor of as much as 400%. In London, as well as other cities, the share of those accessing urban centres on foot or by public transport is much greater. Walking is the most important mode for accessing local town centres; public transport is the most important mode for travel to international centres, such as Oxford Street.
  • Car drivers spend more on a single trip; walkers and bus users spend more over a week or a month. In 2011, in London town centres, walkers spent £147 more per month than those travelling by car. Compared with 2004, spending by public transport users and walkers has risen; spending by car users and cyclists has decreased.
  • A good mix of shops and services and a quality environment are some of the most important factors in attracting visitors to town centres. If both these are poor, then changes to parking or accessibility are very unlikely to make a town centre more attractive.
  • There is very little evidence of the impacts of parking on the night time economy. This is an area that needs more research.
  • London Boroughs collect a lot of data on parking but there is less information available on town centre economic factors. Finding ways to coordinate data collection across departments could be helpful to monitor the impacts of parking policies.

Re-Think! Parking on the High Street: Guidance on Parking Provision in Town and City Centres, by Ojay McDonald, 2013. Published by the Association of Town & City Management, British Parking Association, Parking Data & Research International, and Springboard Research Ltd
The Relevance Of Parking In The Success Of Urban Centres: A Review For London Councils. 31/10/2012 Prepared by: Sophie Tyler, Giles Semper, Peter Guest & Ben Fieldhouse of www.themeans.co.uk

Graphic from Re-Think! Parking on the High Street.

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