Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has unveiled plans to scrap centrally controlled parking quotas for town centres across the UK.
The intention is to boost high street trading by allowing local governments to create more parking spaces in towns by doing away with limits currently set by Westminster.
A law introducing quotas was established in 2001 as an attempt to cut car pollution and traffic in town centres by limiting the amount of parking that councils can offer, but Pickles argues that the measures now pose a major obstacle to high street regeneration.
Speaking during the launch of the initiative yesterday, Pickles said: “Families and local firms face a parking nightmare under existing rules.
“Stressed-out drivers have to run the gauntlet of parking fines, soaring parking charges and a lack of parking spaces. These parking restrictions have hit small shops the hardest, creating ‘ghost town’ high streets which can’t compete with out-of-town supermarkets.
“We want to see more parking spaces to help small shops prosper in local high streets and assist mums struggling with their family shop. We are standing up for local high streets.”
The coalition government launched a review on how to save regional high streets from decline earlier this year, fronted by TV personality Mary Portas, and many consumers and retailers have been quick to blame expensive and limited spaces for cars in town centres for putting these locations at a disadvantage to out-of-town schemes which often offer parking for free.
Responding to the proposals the British Retail Consortium (BRC), whilst broadly supporting better accessibility for town centres, cautioned that extra parking spaces should not just be used as an extra revenue raising scheme by councils.
Tom Ironside, BRC Director of Business and Regulation, said: “It’s short-sighted to treat parking as a revenue raiser. High fees - which take advantage of shoppers - risk driving away business from town and city centres.
“Putting up parking charges may look like an easy option for cash-strapped councils but they shouldn’t be ignoring the wider impact on their communities and economies of the damage higher charges cause to town centres.”
Although councils will be loathed to give up the extra revenue created by parking charges at a time local government budgets are being slashed, an example of the advantages of discount parking can be seen in a scheme which is currently being run by Newcastle City Council.
Launched in October 2010, the Alive After Five initiative offers free city centre parking and extended shop opening times for consumers between 5pm and 8pm each weekday, and is thought to have generated an additional £53.1 million in revenues in its first six months.