Local car park fees “killing small towns and villages stone dead”

Councils urged to drop charges as shoppers flock to out-of-town supermarkets

Local businesses in small towns and villages would receive a boost in trade of between 30-60% if councils abolished car parking charges, it’s been claimed.

A Yorkshire-based car leasing company says that local authorities have to see beyond raising revenue from car parking as even the smallest charge is enough to deter people (and their money) from visiting, with a disastrous effect on local traders.

According to Flexed.co.uk, British consumers are more interested in convenience and are more likely to use a free car park provided by a chain supermarket than pay to shop in a town centre, even if it has a diverse range of stores.

“It can’t have escaped the attention of local authorities that supermarkets with free parking are packed to the rafters, while town and village centres are withering away,” says Flexed.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall.

“We know of towns that charge over a pound per hour for parking, and the shopping streets are full of empty store-fronts. Even the big chains leave when the shoppers go elsewhere.”

Flexed.co.uk carried out a survey of parking and shopping habits:

• Towns and villages with free parking see up to 60% more cars parking in local facilities
• Shopkeepers say their businesses attract more customers when parking is free, and takings are up around 30%
• Drivers say that even a 20p charge is enough for them to shop elsewhere, even if this involves a diversion of several miles
• In towns where there is a mixture of paid parking and free parking at local supermarkets, 80% of drivers said they would park and shop at the out-of-town supermarket
• 87% said they’d shop locally, but only if paid parking wasn’t an issue

“Out-of-town supermarkets really have become the one-stop solution for a huge majority,” says Hall. “It’s not just groceries. You can buy clothes, electricals, even fill up your car. Who needs to pay to park in town or the local village anymore?”

One driver told Flexed.co.uk: “I’ve lived in this town for 15 years and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve gone out to shop locally. The big supermarkets are less than a mile away and there’s always free parking. There’s even somebody to wash my car while I’m doing the shopping.”

Typical of disgruntled local traders is one shop owner who said that a recent 50% increase in local parking from 80p to £1.20 per hour is driving customers elsewhere.

“We told the local council that they won’t have a town left if they went ahead with this rise, but they’re more interested in making money,” said Sajid, “In the weeks since the new charge started, custom is definitely down.

“I know of local shopkeepers who have thrown in the towel and are now baking bread at the big supermarket. Parking fees are killing this place stone dead, but the council won’t listen,” the clothing store manager told Flexed.

Flexed.co.uk said that towns which have experimented with periods of free parking for local people have seen more people coming to shop, but regrets that most of these schemes have been temporary.

One driver told us: “I’d like nothing more than to shop at an actual butchers and bakers, but to spend an afternoon shopping in town is the best part of five pounds in parking alone. There’s a Tesco on the edge of town where parking’s free, so we go there instead.”

Another said: “We used to get the first hour for free. But now that’s gone, we’ve taken our trade elsewhere. It’s the greedy council’s fault, they were only out for our money.”

However, there’s a balance to this argument that abolishing parking charges means that councils will have to look for revenue elsewhere, which could result in cuts to vital services, says Hall.

“Government limits on how much local authorities can increase council tax charges mean that alternative revenue streams are vital for many councils,” he says, “and car parking is one of the most obvious ways of raising cash.

“It’s vital that a balance is struck between maintaining services and helping local businesses to survive.”

Flexed.co.uk says that local authorities have to come up with imaginative solutions to keep town and village centres alive.

“They can no longer rely on the goodwill of drivers to keep putting the money in the slot. It’s time to change before it’s too late.”