Retail guru Bill Grimsey’s review of the future of the high street has just hit the newsstands (well, his website) and it includes some trenchant comments on town centre parking. He starts off by criticising the position of the Local Government Association, which is that: “High streets are not damaged by parking charges, which are in fact essential traffic management tools focused entirely at supporting high streets.”
“Ostriches stick their heads in the sand [they don’t, actually] when faced with danger and so does the LGA, it seems,” Mr Grimsey says in response. “Everybody we spoke to during the course of the review… stated that ‘levelling the playing field’ to out of town convenience with regards to parking was essential to give the high street a fighting chance.”
As such, therefore, two of Mr Grimsey’s recommendations concern parking. These are:
Make it easier for motorists to shop by building in a two hour free high street and town centre car-parking system to the overall business plan for the location; and
Local authorities to freeze car-parking charges for a minimum of 12 months
He is also notably keen in his new report on the potential of parking-related technology to improve the ‘offer’ of the high street. “If you drive, it [a Networked High Street, apparently] will direct you via Twitter messages [which is not something that the RAC Foundation would necessarily recommend] to free spaces in the carpark or on the street (it gets its information from the sensors based in the parking bays, generating a parking map in real-time and feeding that to Google Maps for the area),” the report suggests. “The High Street Manager can also lower the parking prices (via an Electronic Pricing Manager using a real-time display) and push it through Twitter to a local neighbourhood database, screens in nearby parks and catchment areas and notice boards above the traffic lights.”
In advocating free (or at least cheaper) and better managed parking regimes in town centres, Mr Grimsey seems to be more or less echoing the parking-related recommendations in the 2011 review of the high street carried out by Mary Portas. “Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres,” Portas said in her review. “I understand that to offer free parking all day is not the solution. I recognise that this would be potentially open to abuse by local workers and I want more free car parking spaces to be the privilege of local shoppers.”
The apparent agreement between Mr Grimsey and Ms Portas on this issue is, perhaps, particularly significant given that the former has been considerably less than complimentary about much of the work of the latter in the run up to the publication of his review of the high street.