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Businesses: Town-centre Parking

Volume 752: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of town-centre parking policies and their impact on local businesses.

My Lords, the Government’s assessment is that town-centre parking policies can have a significant impact on local businesses. If parking is too expensive or difficult, shoppers will drive to out-of-town supermarkets or just shop online, undermining the vitality of town centres and leading to “ghost town” high streets. The Government intend to support local shops in town centres by reforming overzealous and unfair rules on parking enforcement.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for her response. Can she assure me that the Government will clamp down on the use of car parking as a means of revenue-raising for local authorities?

I thank it is worth offering your Lordships a little context in responding to my noble friend’s Question. Local authorities’ total income and net profits from parking more than doubled under the previous Administration and councils are still making net profits. We also know that there is public concern. The Transport Select Committee said in a report published last year:

“There is a deep-rooted … perception that local authorities view parking enforcement as a cash cow”.

All independent reports show that parking is affecting high streets and local businesses. Therefore, I am very pleased to be able to confirm to my noble friend today that the Government have just completed a consultation on new measures to tackle this problem, and are considering those responses before announcing what action they are going to take.

My Lords, with the Government’s renewed interest in tackling parking charges and easing the burden on local businesses, can the Minister explain why the three London councils with the highest parking charges and fines per person are Conservative? In fact, in London, Conservative boroughs took double the amount in parking fines and charges per residence compared with Labour boroughs.

As the noble Lord heard me say, this is a problem that we think started under measures introduced by the previous Government.

In fact, Labour’s Local Government Minister at the time, John Healey, called for councils to charge for more services, including parking. When Labour was in office, he said:

“Only one in five councils are using charging to the full potential”.

Labour’s current shadow Minister has admitted that the Labour Government too easily reached for increasing costs as a way to drive change on things such as car usage. It is this Government who are tackling that problem.

Is the Minister aware that in a typical city, buses and trains convey twice as many shoppers to the centre as come by car and taxi? The Government’s consultation paper, to which the Minister referred, obviously will make parking enforcement more difficult. It also will forbid the use of TV cameras to police the areas outside schools. Will the Minister ensure that the review that is being undertaken of the responses to the consultation document looks particularly at the effect on the efficient operation of bus services, road safety and nitrogen oxide emissions?

As my noble friend will understand from my earlier responses, we are carrying out this review because we think some of the parking measures already in place are having a negative effect on the vitality of our high streets and towns. The measures that we are considering are there to address the importance of parking. My noble friend mentioned specifically the use of CCTV cameras. I stress that we are considering the use of those cameras in parking bays, and what is important is that they are proportionate in their use.

My Lords, I want to focus particularly on the impact on small towns, which may not necessarily have trains and buses bringing people into them. Where there are not just large-scale out-of-town developments but also small-scale shopping centres, where it is easy to park for nothing, the impact on the high street is significant. In Mirfield, in the diocese from which I come, free parking has had a very good impact. In Berwick-upon-Tweed, another town I know very well, there is no free parking and that is seriously affecting local businesses. Can we be assured that Her Majesty’s Government will encourage local authorities to look at ways of finding more parking spaces in small towns?

The right reverend Prelate is right to raise the issue of more free parking. In a recent report published by Deloitte, more free parking was the single biggest issue raised by people who responded. In examining some options, we are trying to ensure that local people have a greater say in the parking arrangements of their local areas—and, clearly, access to free parking should be one of those things.

My Lords, since the Minister chose in the first Answer to politicise this matter when she defended Conservative local government by saying that it was following Labour Party policy, will she invite her colleagues in Conservative local authorities to follow Labour Party policy in opposing the bedroom tax?

The point that I am making to the noble Lord is that parking is an issue that affects all areas and is of great importance, and that we are not afraid to address an important issue in a proper manner.

My Lords, about 51 years ago Admiralty Fleet Order 150/63 was produced, which taught one how to treat snake bites. The first step was: kill the snake. Does the Minister believe that the snakes here are people who dislike and hate car owners? As the right reverend Prelate says, in small towns people have to use cars and there should be a concerted effort to ease restrictions in those sorts of places.

The noble Lord is right, and I am disappointed if my response to the right reverend Prelate did not give him the right impression. Clearly, access to free parking is an important matter for people. The Government are trying to make changes in order to ensure that, in particular in small towns and those that are not thriving in the way that they deserve, we are not blocking their progress.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the purpose of parking meters is to allocate scarce space for parking, so that if at peak times one cannot find a place, it means that the charges are too low, and, if there are a lot of empty places, it means that parking charges are too high?

That is a rather philosophical question. The most important thing is that charges are appropriate, and the Government are trying to ensure that the charges imposed by local authorities are appropriate and are seen as fair and reasonable by the people who have to pay them.