Eric Pickles hits out over town centre parking policies

Parking in Hebden Bridge.
Parking in Hebden Bridge.

Eric Pickles MP has said that council parking policies are hindering town centre businesses.

The secretary of state for communities and local government said that councils need to ditch their “anti-car dogma” in order to help local economies a boost.

“Draconian town hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park. Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores, taking their custom with them,” he said.

“Trying to find somewhere to park has been an obstacle course in too many of our towns, cities and seaside resorts. Confusing and difficult car parking practices are undermining the economic vitality of the high street and tourist destinations. Over-zealous parking wardens have been inflicting real damage on local economies and given many towns and councils a bad name.

“Town halls need to ditch their anti-car dogma. Making it easier to park will help support local shops, local jobs and tourism.”

He is backing calls for a host of new measures from central government to be applied by councils across the country.

However, Calderdale Council’s member for economy and environment Barry Collins hit back at Mr Pickles’ claims. He said: “The recession years have been hard for Calderdale householders and business people alike but, as a community, we’re coming through them in much better shape than the doom-mongers predicted.

“Yes, shoppers are still not spending as much as traders might hope, but let’s be honest, is that really because of council parking charges? Or is it because so many people have lost their jobs or seen their wages cut and just don’t have enough money in their pockets?

“If Eric Pickles really wants to help our shopkeepers along the road to recovery right now, I’d suggest he presses his government to ensure business rates are kept as low as Calderdale Council keeps the cost of parking.

“The charges are to carry the administrative charges of parking services but also help prevent congestion problems in town centres.”

The government has issued, what it calls, guidance on design in town centres:

l The quality of parking in town centres is important; it should be convenient, safe and secure. Parking charges should be appropriate and not undermine the vitality of town centres and local shops, and enforcement should be proportionate.

l Every element of the street scene contributes to the identity of the place, including for example lighting, railings, litter bins, paving, fountains and street furniture. These should be well designed and sensitively placed. Unnecessary clutter and physical constraints such as parking bollards and roads humps should be avoided. Streets and street junctions that are designed as public spaces (rather than just traffic routes) are likely to be more attractive.

l The removal of unnecessary street clutter can, in itself, make pavements clearer and more spacious for pedestrians, including the disabled, and improve visibility and sight lines for road users. The Department for Transport has published advice to highways authorities on reducing sign clutter.

l The quality of signage, including that for shops and other commercial premises, is important and can enhance identity and legibility. However, street clutter is a blight, as the excessive or insensitive use of traffic signs and other street furniture has a negative impact. Street signs should be periodically audited with a view to identifying and removing unnecessary signs.

l Parking solutions should be planned from the outset; there are many different approaches that can be taken to ensuring successful outcomes, such as on-street parking, courtyard parking, in-curtilage parking and basement parking. Natural surveillance of parked cars is also an important consideration. Car parking and service areas should be considered in context to ensure the most successful outcome can be delivered in each case.

l Planning authorities should assess and plan to meet the needs of main town centre uses in full, in broadly the same way as for their housing and economic needs, adopting a ‘town centre first’ approach and taking account of specific town centre policy to which this guidance relates.

l This positive approach should include seeking to improve the quality of parking in town centres and, where it is necessary to ensure the vitality of town centres, the quantity too. Authorities should set parking charges that do not undermine the vitality of town centres and parking enforcement should be proportionate, avoiding unfairly penalising drivers.

Brighouse Business Initiative’s Lesley Adams was vociferous in her views on the council’s parking charges policy.

“It is disingenuous of councils, especially Calderdale, to keep increasing parking charges,” said the owner of Simply Flowers, Brighouse.

“Shoppers do not like paying for parking and so are being encouraged by councils to use supermarket and shopping centre car parks which are free. If Tesco and the like didn’t think it would harm their business you can be sure they would be charging for parking, as they don’t I think it should tell you something about their views on charging for parking and the effect it would have on the average shopper.

“Car parks should have the first half hour free and then a pay on exit scheme then shoppers can stay as long as they want without worrying about getting a penalty charge.

Lesley, who is also chair of the Brighouse Businesss Initiative said: “There does need to be a balance between people who do park inappropriately or dangerously who then do need a penalty notice and the at times over zealous traffic wardens waiting for a vehicle to go over its allotted time and slapping a ticket on.

“One business in Brighouse town centre employing 22 people is moving out of Brighouse to premises with free parking as a number of their staff park in the car parks which are currently free but charges are going to be introduced shortly.”

Roger Harvey, owner of Harveys of Halifax, believes that it’s the availability of parking spaces that needs to be looked at.

“It’s not only parking charges that are the issue but also the availability of parking and perceived availability to shoppers in Halifax.

“We have a lot of on-street parking but it would be nice if there were more places that were accessible or better signposted. The car park at Eureka, for example, or Broad Street Plaza.

“The council could maybe look at reassessing the yellow lines in the town centres and allowing people to park in loading bays over the weekend.

“We are not that expensive compared to other towns like York and Leeds.”