When supermarkets offer free parking….. Costly Council Car Parks Crush Town Centres
by Pat Dodd Racher
£1.7 million: that’s the gross revenue just from parking charges levied by Carmarthenshire County Council in 2011-12. Revenue from parking in town centres has become integral to keeping this local government show on the road, but at the risk of substantial damage to the shops in town centres – especially to those shops which compete with supermarkets offering free parking.
Given the expansion of supermarkets’ ranges way beyond food to include clothing, electrical appliances large and small, DIY, pharmacy, newspapers, magazines and books, DVDs, and on, and on, not forgetting cafes and filling stations, the majority of town-centre retailers are vulnerable to supermarket competition.
Most supermarkets offer free parking. This is a colossal attraction. When in Llandeilo I often buy items in CK’s, which has a free car park. It costs 80p to stop for up to four hours in the council-run car park in the town centre, and on January 1st this is due to rise to 90p. The charge may be reasonable for one visit a week, but five mornings will be £4.50 in 2013, while Tesco in Ammanford or Carmarthen is free.
By March 2014 higher parking charges will increase Carmarthenshire’s revenues by £710,500, according to the council’s press office.* The revenue from parking charges in 2014-15 will exceed £2.4 million, if the council has got its sums right. Add more than £132,000 in season ticket revenues for 2014-15, over £56,000 for residents’ parking permits and about £290,000 in penalty charges, and the income from motorists trying to visit Carmarthenshire’s town centres, and thus keep them alive, will be soaring towards £3 million, compared with £2.1 million in 2011-12.**
I would like to use my car less, but the flight of services from rural areas, and the rare public transport, makes that hard. When I head into town, a free car park is more enticing than a paid-for one. Small businesses cannot afford to construct large free car parks, but supermarkets do exactly that, because free parking is an important part of their retail strategy.
Here’s an idea, if a new supermarket with a car park is given planning permission, I think there should be a requirement for parking to cost as much as the average for car parks serving the town centre. That way, local authorities would at least give small shops a better chance of competing against the mammoth firms that are quasi monopolies.
* ‘County structures car park charges’, January 10th 2012.
** The council’s accounts for 2011-12 show these revenues: parking fees £1,716,105, penalty charges £289,299, season tickets £81,363 and parking permits £56,115. The plans are to take another £710,000 in parking fees by March 2014, and £51,000 more from season tickets.