After a winter spent lingering in Essex car parks, it was good this week to hear from the leader of a local council that he welcomed the fresh thinking that we brought to the thorny issue of town centre parking.
Despite national headlines and central government pronouncements, it seems to me that town centre car parking is the most local of local issues. It is also one that divides opinions. As our national town centre benchmarking work shows, it can split opinions with, on average, two-thirds of businesses in any town likely to be critical of parking provision.
Our ‘Between the Lines’ approach to understanding and reviewing town parking issues seeks to break down the battle lines that so often divide local opinion on parking and instead we inform debate with data on parking quality, quantity and cost. Our surveys in the Essex towns told us that parking was often less of an issue for town centre users than businesses and that they were more responsive to convenience and availability than cost, in making their parking choices.
What most pleased me about the council leaders’ reaction this week to our parking review, was a willingness to view proposals for improving parking practice as an iterative process that can be informed by business and customer opinion. By engaging with stakeholders on the basis of evidence, we can help dispel long-held misconceptions and also engage them in finding solutions. Our approach to see parking not as an end in itself but something that we all have to navigate to get full value out of a town centre trip was also appreciated. And thankfully, as we do when we go in to any town to look at parking with a fresh set of eyes, we were able to offer some easy to implement ‘quick wins’.
It was also reassuring that councillors and officers empathised with our view that payment by phone -especially with easy to operate Smartphone apps- arguably provides more flexible and ‘future-proofed’ technology than investment in expensive payment terminals. According to Ofcom, Smartphone ownership grew by 10% in 2014 and 61% of UK adults now own one. With all our other purchasing going on-line, it would seem perverse not mirror this in parking payments.
Yes parking issues can vex local people and businesses plus occupy column inches in the local press. Our experience, though, is that when you get people around the table and offer evidence and understanding, perceptions can be changed and problems can become solvable.
Download a summary of the Between the Lines Parking Review for Uttlesford District
– Chris Wade, Director, the People and Places Partnership