The great parking debate and the high street revival

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Last week saw the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles enter the frame by mooting the idea of allowing motorists a 15-minute window to park on double yellow lines while they pop into a local shop.

While the move prompted a mixed reaction from motoring groups on the issue of road safety, it also highlighted the need for a continued discussion about parking provision in our local areas and to limit the use of parking fees and fines to generate income for local councils. This was all the more interesting when in the same week figures from the RAC Foundation showed that Councils across England have generated a cash surplus of £565million from on and off-street parking charges between 2011-12.

Parking has its part in the high street revival

The Forum has been a long standing supporter of urging local authorities to do their bit to help our struggling high streets. One way we have suggested is by reviewing their parking fees and it is great to see that this hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. Only this week, Enfield Council has joined the ranks of a host of forward thinking local authorities across the country by announcing that it is reducing parking charges to shop in the borough.

Despite recent retail figures, there is no denying that times remain tough for our local high streets. Between 2000 and 2009 some 15,000 retailers rolled down the shutters in town centres, with a further 10,000 closed in 2010 and 2011 suggesting that there was no let up in number of high street closures.

Putting parking into the mix

Parking is by no means the only answer to get our local high streets trading. With over 30,000 shops lying empty and the likes of Dwell, Nicole Fahri and Modelzone joining the list of recent high street casualties, innovation and co-operation are also essential to the future success of our local town centres.

Recently we have seen some significant moves to revive town centres across the country. Local authorities and traders have realised the benefits of taking a long hard look at ways in which they can develop their existing offering in order increase footfall. Shop local, markets, events and loyalty schemes are just some examples.

But just as parking is not the only solution, innovation is just part of the mix that will be needed to tackle the high street challenge.

The Government needs to continue to look at how it can offer support in areas such as business rates and reducing red tape to allow firms to focus on business growth areas. That remains an important focus of our lobbying work.
Advice on everything from cash flow management and credit control to cutting overhead costs is also an essential part of the winning mix for future high street success, something the Forum is able to offer to its members.
There is still some way to go, but at least we are realising that its variety of factors that will be essential in getting trade into our local high streets.