Is parking the key to the economy?

Mike DammsThe Chamber has been asked to give evidence at an Examination in Public on Car Parking Standards, which admittedly doesn’t sound very exciting. However…

Of course we all have views on parking, not just motorists, who can never find anywhere to park, or it’s too expensive, but the environmental lobby take a different standpoint.

Then there’s the government of the day which invariably taxes car ownership, beyond the hypothecated/ break-even level, just because it can, or you can be trusting and accept that it believes in the cause of the moment (changing travel behaviour, health, environment – take your pick).

We probably all have views on workplace parking charges, but that’s an argument for another time.
The one aspect rarely considered though is how parking affects developers and investors decisions and employers’ choices of location, and the impact on the economic future of an area.

Taking office space, for example, the current maximum standard for new-build is approximately three spaces per 1,000 sq.ft.

This may be fine and even desirable in a city context, where public transport is an option and industry, and especially commerce are concentrated in the centre, so large numbers of people are converging.

Try it in Pennine Lancashire, with its string of small towns, distributed industrial and commercial locations and dispersed population.

As for the cycling alternative, it’d defy Olympian and Tour-de France’s Bradley Wiggins to cope with our hills in his best work attire – and to contend with the occasionally un-California-like weather.

Pennine Lancashire’s economy is changing, from heavy labour intensive factories to more office like environments, even for manufacturing; so we need more office space.

Because the role of the area has been manufacturing, we have less ‘old’ office space, which has pre-standard levels of car parking. So a moratorium now means that Pennine Lancashire, and indeed large parts of Lancashire are disadvantaged.

We also, incidentally, have among the lowest levels of car ownership and some of the shortest travel-to-work distances in the country.

As people become more affluent and better educated and skilled, car ownership and commuting increases. If parking is a constraint then are we to be denied that growth that has been enjoyed elsewhere?

As a Chamber we know of companies choosing against us and locating elsewhere. Once that cycle starts it’s downhill, and you get typecast as an ex-industrial area rather than an area with a vibrant mixed economy.

Yet another example of a one-size fits all policy that bashes an area trying to improve itself economically. Who’d have thought that parking could be controversial?

Michael Damms, Chamber of Commerce East Lancashire.