Trade chief hits out at car park consultants

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce
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A trade chief has hit out at Preston Council’s decision to hire a consultant to draw up plans for the future of the city’s car parks.

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce which runs the city’s Business Improvement District (BID), questioned why it needed a consultant on an issue regularly raised by shoppers.

The council, which spent nearly £1.5m on consultants last year, has hired consultancy, AECOM, to draw up a strategy into how it can use charges at its car parks to attract more shoppers into the city centre.

She said: “Does Preston really need to be hiring a highly-paid consultant to tell us something which is proven all over the country, that providing free or cheaper parking for shoppers will bring more people to an area.

“You only have to look at the out-of-town shopping parks at places like Deepdale and the Capitol Centre to see the evidence; the shops they have are the same as in the city centre, plus the city centre has a raft of other independent traders which should make it more appealing.

“The reason why you can never find a parking spot in these retail parks is because they offer free parking.”

The BID’s most recent shopper survey, which quizzed more than 1,000 visitors, showed exoebsuce of parking among the top reasons most likely to put them off visiting Preston.

A third of people also said they would use the city centre more in the evening if parking charges were reduced.

Council leader Peter Rankin launched the review into parking charges after a storm of criticism at the authority’s decision to hike prices earlier this year.

He said the report would look at “the options and implications” of the council’s own car parks and private car parks within the city.

The leader said: “We need to look at the whole issue of car parking, the council has its car parks but others do too.

“You have to look at it in the round – all the options and implications and we are fully committed to improving Preston city centre as a shopping and business destination.

“We understand that parking has a role to play but we have to think about every aspect including shopping, commuting, traffic issues and the views of other parking providers in the city.

“The only way to do this is to have a proper study, a proper review.

“Then we can make informed decisions and choices about car parking in the city.”

In September, the Evening Post revealed Preston Council had spent nearly £1.5m on consultants, including more than £250,000 on the city’s doomed Tithebarn regeneration project.