Parking charge rises could hit high street trade

Local councils have been warned that attempting to raise extra revenue through increases in car parking charges could serve to damage high street and town centre businesses.

A report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), entitled 21st Century High Streets, has argued the parking pricing policies should be designed to help not hinder business growth.

The BRC said that high streets are the heart of local communities – providing jobs and essential services – and a vital part of the private sector growth the wider economy urgently needs.

As a result, cash-hungry councils should resist the temptation of trade-killing increases in parking charges.

Specifically, the report urges that parking and transport policy should be seen as a way to attract customers to the high street rather than simply as a means of traffic management.

Car parks should not be used primarily as a means of raising revenue, and a proportion of funds raised should be ring fenced to improve car parking options.

Tom Ironside, the BRC’s director of business and regulation, said: “Parking and transport policy should be aimed at providing a service to customers and retailers, not exploited as a local authority fund raiser.

“Jacking-up parking charges looks like an easy option for cash-strapped councils but they should not be ignoring the wider impact on their communities and economies of the damage higher charges causes to town centres.”

It was a view supported by another business group, the Forum of Private Business (FPB).

The FPB reported that some areas of the country have seen increases in the cost of street parking and council-owned car parks climb by as much as 150 per cent.

The danger, the FPB claimed, is that raising the rates could put small firms out of business as shoppers are driven away from the high street and towards out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks, which enjoy ample free parking.

Jane Bennett, the FPB’s head of campaigns, commented: “Simply putting up parking charges might seem like an easy and convenient way for local authorities to plug their budget shortfalls.

“However, it could well prove to be a false economy as it will drive even more trade out of town centres, leading to more empty units, fewer visitors and lower amounts raised through business rates.

“High street traders are already very anxious about January’s VAT rise. By putting up parking charges – by as much as 150 per cent in some cases – these councils will give people another incentive to shun their independent local shops in favour of identikit out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks.

Miss Bennett added: “Around the UK, many forward-thinking town halls have deliberately kept their parking charges down – or even kept parking free altogether – in order to boost trade. They have been rewarded with thriving town centres, full of varied and unique shops.

“We would urge the councils who are proposing to push up their parking prices to think again and follow this example instead.”

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