It is now almost two years since the RAC Foundation published ‘The Car in British Society’ which confirmed the car is now the dominant mode of travel in most people’s daily lives. The report illustrates to what extent the car has become an integral part of 21st century life in the UK with more than three quarters of households owning at least one car, and 70% of adults being qualified drivers.
This week, both Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond acknowledged the importance of the car when they scrapped rules forcing councils to impose higher parking charges, limit car spaces in new housing developments and obtain planning permission for recharging points for electric cars. CLG press release
Mr Pickles complained, “Whitehall’s addiction to micromanagement has created a parking nightmare with stressed out drivers running a gauntlet of unfair fines, soaring charges and a total lack of residential parking.”
Whilst Mr Hammond said, “This Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people – and that by supporting the next generation of electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, it can enable sustainable green motoring to be a long-term part of Britain’s future transport planning.”
However, even low emission cars can cause congestion on the roads, particularly in our town centres – many of which were not built to accommodate large amounts of traffic. And, ironically, dense traffic can discourage pedestrians and cyclists, forcing even more cars onto urban roads. It is for these reasons amongst others that local authorities must continue to recognise the need for imaginative and attractive parking schemes to suit their particular situations. This is what recent announcements by the government will allow.
What has become apparent in recent years is that higher and higher parking charges do not get motorists out of their cars. It causes frustration and displacement of economic activity: in other words, you get cross and go somewhere else to shop or watch a film. Local authorities need to be able to encourage visitors to their towns and cities by whatever means of transport is most appropriate. If that means is a car, then providing an appropriately priced and friendly parking service should not be viewed as environmental vandalism. Incentives other than high prices in the car park now need to be looked at as ways of getting people to use their cars less, or for less of the journey.
Patterns and densities of settlement in Britain are clearly different from most other parts of the world, and vary widely even within our own borders. What suits one place may not be appropriate in another. But it has become clear that lack of residential parking is not enough in itself to reduce car ownership. Unless such a strategy goes hand in hand with another to provide convenient alternative means of transport to meet the demands of all sections of the community, it will fail.
People will still buy cars if they perceive a need and park them on already crowded streets. Not providing parking, making parking difficult or charging a very high price for it simply makes life difficult. To encourage people out of their cars we need ease of access to safe, clean and reasonably priced alternatives for some journeys, alternative models of car ownership for others, and an all round clear strategy for motoring – including parking - to support our economy and society.