Free parking trial is ‘well overdue’

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Business bosses have today warned they need to see drastic changes in the way car parking is run to avoid a permanent decline in the high street.

Early results from a survey undertaken by Preston’s Business Improvement District (BID) have shown 65 per cent of people coming into Preston would visit more often if there was free car parking.

BUMPER TO BUMPER: Cars massed in the Capitol Centre car park

BUMPER TO BUMPER: Cars massed in the Capitol Centre car park

Of the 568 who have been surveyed to date, 57 per cent of them visited Preston by car.

A total of 13 per cent said the price of car parking was much too expensive and 40 per cent said it was a little too expensive, while 38 per cent said it was about right.

The figures come as the Lancashire Evening Post lifts the lid on the growing challenges facing our retailers with a week-long investigation looking at the future of our High Street.

Our investigation has found one of the main issues affecting traders and shoppers is parking.

Richard Douglas, of BID, said: “As a city we must do everything possible to retain business in the centre and with the likes of the Trafford Centre advertising 11,500 free car parking spaces as one of its key messages Preston city council need to reconsider their policies. Preston BID wants to see free car parking all weekend, every weekend and a trial of significant length is well over due.”

City bosses say they are in a ‘Catch 22’ situation, needing the income that car parking generates, but wanting to entice more shoppers with incentives.

New figures released by the Institute of Advanced Motorists from Department for Communities and Local Government data over the past two years found six districts in Lancashire, together with Lancashire County Council, collected more than £10m from car parks in the last year.

But in Preston, despite them picking up £1,796,000 in revenue, the report found Preston Council was in the red. After the amount of money spent staffing and running car parks the authority lost around £459,000.

The previous year they made a profit of £689,000.

A council spokesman said the figures were not a true reflection of car parking income, but were down to the way the authority valued their car parks. The spokesman said: “The value of some car parks was revised downwards which had the effect of lowering the capital value of these assets in the council’s accounts by around £1m. The reason for the large fall can be partly explained by reviews only being undertaken on a five-year cycle and during this period the economic position nationally has changed significantly.

“The council provides around one third of the off-street publicly accessible car parking provision in the city centre. The majority of these spaces are within multi-storey structures which have significant running costs and whilst there is an expectation amongst car park users to pay to use conveniently located facilities, the council has operated a number of free parking initiatives over the years.”

In nearby Wyre, council bosses said the number of visitors using the council-owned car parks was down overall.

A spokesman for Wyre Council said: “The simple reason that we are in the red is that less people are using our car parks. As well as austerity measures by motorists in this current economic climate, the tramway works in Fleetwood when Lord Street was blocked off will not have helped, along with the introduction of free parking on the Booths section of the Windsor Road car park in Garstang.

“The number of ticket sales for 09/10 was 846,038, in 10/11 it was 780,748 and in 11/12 it was 683,457.

“Wyre’s policy was to increase charges every year by 10p over a five year period and that is due to come to an end. We will now be taking the opportunity for a review of all our car parking services in Wyre and that is due to start shortly.”

Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said car parking was not deterring shoppers. She said: “A recent report entitled ‘Re-think! Parking on the high street’ found that there was no conclusive 
evidence that parking tariffs are influencing decline in locations across the UK. The council understands however that there are many shopkeepers who believe that there is such a relationship and we are very keen to hear the views of local chambers of commerce and indeed always consult them about our car parking policies and charges.”

Bosses at Chorley Council said they would soon be looking at figures after a six-month tried offering free parking after 1pm on Saturdays and after 5pm on weekends.

They said truer figures showed income from car parking in 2010/11 of £788,000 and the figures for 2011/12 were £767,000. Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, said: “Like all town centres we were seeing fewer people coming into town.

“We launched a parking trial offering free parking after 1pm every Saturday and every week day after 5pm and also reduced parking fees at all other times.

“That trial finishes at the end of this month, so then we’ll review how it sent and may look to make further changes to help shoppers and traders.”

County Coun Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “The Institute of Advanced Motorists has grouped together all the figures 
relating to a range of parking activities.

“These include activities across the county to prevent unlawful parking, which don’t generate income.

“The on-street metered 
parking areas in Preston generated a surplus of £45,000 in 2010/11 and £77,000 in 2011/12. This income is re-invested into improving the 
highways network.