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04 January 2016

Monday Musing: Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all, we hope you enjoyed the free parking, where it has been present this holiday. Were many of you out on Boxing Day for the January Sale shopping?

You’re damned if you don’t provide free parking, by angry motorists, and you’re damned if you do, by angry motorists, again, struggling to find spaces!

Many towns, high streets and city centres implement ‘free parking at Christmas’ policies to try and encourage more visitors. A time of Christmas cheer, elves and other characters wandering the streets singing, Santa’s Grottoes, and hopefully, lots of shoppers spending money.

It is also a time when you can find yourself in endless queues for parking, desperately hoping that those people with lots of bags are going back to their car, rather than simply dropping bags off ready for round two.

So is it the panic of finishing the Christmas shopping in time or the need to get that excellent bargain that makes us put up with the queues, angry motorists, and beeping horns this time of year?

We think not – surely it’s the attractions that bring visitors in to cities and towns creating that famous Christmas cheer for shoppers and shopkeepers alike.

Shying away from the inevitable parking mania and hustle of overcrowded streets, more and more shoppers are choosing to shop online. Perhaps even waiting for Black Friday sales to hit, fingers paused over the refresh button, with payment details on hand, ready for that last minute deal. This is the high street’s worst nightmare.

The Office for National Statistics reported the annual average weekly spending online in 2014 was £718.7 million. This was an increase of 11.8% compared with 2013. Five years ago, the annual average weekly spend online was less than half the current year’s figure at £341.7 million years[1], and our move to avoid the crowds and head for the internet shows no sign of slowing down. Despite the January sales!

And it’s not cars that spend money, its people. Free parking should be the last thing you think about to boost shoppers at Christmas and into the January Sales. Why not free coffee? Or carol singing? Or a community atmosphere with exciting attractions?

We all want the same thing; politicians, car park operators, the public, retailers, we want a lovely busy high street. Somewhere to shop, somewhere to visit, somewhere to grab some lunch, or just a quick coffee and somewhere to enjoy the hustle and bustle and spend some time together as a community.

Attractiveness on the high street is important, but so is accessibility. They must work in harmony.

All the time our streets are congestion free or there are enough spaces to park and the charges are affordable, the benefits of management are not tangible or noticeable.

A badly managed high street means more queues of angry motorists, unable to move or turn around; we all know the famous scene in The Italian Job when the traffic management cameras are hijacked. And in Aberystwyth in Wales when there was no enforcement of parking for a period and the true outcome of allowing free parking was portrayed with chaotic scenes of illegally parked cars.

Proper and effective parking and traffic management is essential to support sustainable growth in our high streets. Local authority parking managers are clear that their job is about reducing congestion and improving road safety in order to help revitalise the high street. The private sector provides most of the parking nowadays and private companies are working hard keeping our car parks safe, free from obstruction caused by indiscriminately parked cars; improving safety, protecting spaces for residents or particular groups like disabled people, enabling servicing and deliveries to take place in retail parks that would become congested if parking wasn't managed.

After all according to the National Travel Survey 64% of all journeys involve the car at some point. No parking, means no motorists.

So let’s try something different – let’s all work together to generate that Christmas cheer in town and city centres that will last all year round!

 

[1] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rsi/retail-sales/december-2014/sty-overview-of-internet-retail-sales-in-2014.html

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