This week is a little different for me as I will be attending the Full Council meeting of Bassetlaw District Council to present my 1 hour’s free parking petition, which has been signed by over 2500 constituents from across Bassetlaw.
Covid-19 has presented many challenges for businesses and even before this pandemic our town centres have faced difficulties. Worksop’s high street in particular is in great need of regeneration and investment and we want to create a town centre where people not only want to shop, but also feel comfortable visiting in the evening with their families.
One way that has been shown to help increase footfall and promote the idea of shopping locally is to provide free parking. The cost of parking is only one element and for many it is the inconvenience of having to pay that drives many to out-of-town shopping centres such as Meadowhall instead.
Councils across England have introduced a variety of different free parking initiatives to encourage shopping at town centres and high streets. Free parking initiatives tend to work best when there are enough parking spaces for people to use, so supply is the first issue.
High Street guru and tv personality Mary Portas’ independent review of the future of high streets made a strong recommendation for local free parking in town centres to make high streets more competitive.
In a review into high streets for the Department of Business, Sir John Timpson wrote in his report that local areas should make sure that “existing restrictions and charges are working to support accessibility to local businesses, encouraging footfall and attracting customers to town centres and high streets.”. Can we say that the current arrangements in Worksop and Retford do this effectively?
The Portas Review recommended that “local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table.” This recommendation was made so that high streets could compete with the emergence, success and convenience of out-of-town shopping districts.
Portas makes the argument that removing controlled free parking from town centres puts them at a competitive disadvantage due to the lack of car-based accessibility, as cars are an intrinsic aspect of shopping behaviour. She argues that limiting free parking or increasing prices reduces the appeal of an area and negatively affects longer term economic viability. She did however recognise the environmental cost of increased car use, as well congestion and the loss of revenue for local councils.
The Local Government Association noted that car parking is one of the most talked about issues in town centres and is frequently cited by businesses as a cause of poor performance. They suggested improvements need to focus on the whole journey into town, whilst recognising parking as a pinch-point for customers.
So this petition asks for 1 hour’s free parking as a starting point. Let’s encourage people back into our town centres and not put obstacles in their place when they wish to do so.