We are in a time of transition with cycling on the ascendency and car driving becoming an increasingly minority occupation – at least in inner city areas like Kennington/Oval/Vauxhall. However, many shops and businesses still rely on customers who drive and that is likely to remain the case for some years to come. The challenge is to find a solution that works for everyone.
If you look closely at different commercial areas you will see a wide variety of parking restrictions in force. For example, compare the relatively business friendly parking around Little Portugal (South Lambeth Road) with Kennington Cross and the Oval Parade All three areas are predominately TfL controlled red routes with Lambeth controlled parking in the side streets. None of them are even close to being ideal business friendly parking.
Consider loading bays 10:00-16:00 being a common offering on red routes. Now go into shops like Dirty Burger in Vauxhall and Abis Deli on the Oval Parade and ask them about the reality of loading bays. Legitimate delivery drivers are constantly getting tickets and some have refused to deliver. Never mind the theory, the reality is damaging local businesses. Let’s change track for a moment and consider the big supermarkets.
The next time you go to a big Sainsburys or Tescos take a few minutes to count the cars coming in and out and ponder on what the environmental impact is. Also, count the number of bicycles in and out and the relative amounts people seem to be buying using each of those transport methods. It should be fairly obvious that if it were not for the car parking spaces, supermarkets of that size could not exist. Look what happened to Sainsburys when they down sized. Fewer car parking spaces, higher prices. Take away their car parking spaces completely and they are on a more level playing field with other shops.Now lets go even bigger.
Large Westfield style shopping centres and retail parks
A few people have cited Westfield Stratford City as a good example of a shopping centre well served by public transport and that would certainly be true. However, let’s remember that they also have some 5,000 car parking spaces and charge £5 to park all day. In contrast, drivers wishing to shop around the Kennington Oval area would have to pay £4 per hour and as a result, very few would choose to shop
Impact of declining shops
The current situation is that many shops that people want to see in their local area have long since closed and those that remain open are suppressed. As we lose our local shops we end up having to walk, cycle, drive or travel by public transport further. This adds to the demand on public transport and roads. One strategy to reduce demand is to help local shops thrive. Unfortunately, ill thought parking restrictions do the exact opposite and have now become part of the problem. I’m not suggesting a return to the past with lots of small Victorian shops but on the other hand if we can find a parking formula that works for local shops in a particular area then we all win.
Finding a solution for an area
Now here is the rub. In many areas like the Oval Parade there is generally insufficient pedestrian and cycling traffic for shops to thrive purely on those sources of customers. What is particularly frustrating for shops based in such areas is that they are subject to the noise and pollution of thousands of cars passing but get hardly any income from them . Compare that with a well utilised supermarket car parking space each of which may be contributing to up to 10 short range car journeys per day with corresponding sales.
Different business types and their parking requirements
Of course not all businesses need car parking spaces equally. Consider an area with a mix of estate agents, take-away shops, convenience stores, delicatessens, dentists, hairdressers, butchers, pubs, restaurants etc. Estate agents generally rely on internet business these days and can survive without parking spaces. In contrast, take-away shops and convenience stores can get away with 20 minute/30 minute bays as customers can pop in and out quickly or even take a gamble on double red lines. Cafes and restaurants on the other hand need people to stay a little longer. Also, if a customer wants to visit several shops half an hour is not enough.
So what is business friendly parking?
Supermarkets and retail centres are the masters of this and they know perfectly well what car parking arrangements work for them – usually free parking up to 2 hours. In contrast, shops in traditional commercial areas are subject to the whims of TfL or their local authority. I use ‘whim’ deliberately because when you start to look closely at local restrictions you quickly realise that in many cases they have little relevance to the shops they are supposed to support. A classic example is the recent increase in ‘take-away’ friendly TfL 20 minute red route bays to 30 minutes as if one size fits all. It may not be TfL’s policy to give a competitive advantage to take away shops and convenience stores but in a way that is exactly what they do.
Now the last thing I would argue for is free all day parking. If you did do this, e.g. South Lambeth Road, shop owners and local residents would probably just block the spaces up with their own cars. It may be better than nothing but comes no where near the efficiency of a supermarket car park.
There is a clear line between business friendly and business damaging parking and it is easy to tell the difference when you observe what is happening in a particular area. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but if the research is done then a solution will emerge.