We need free parking, and we need it now!

There’s no getting away from it, high street retailers are having a tough time.

So what can be done to make 2013 less of an ‘annus horribilus’ for them? We think it’s high time councils started to do more for the small businesses, and they could make a good start by axing car parking charges.

We think this would really help retailers survive what looks set to be another challenging year by significantly increasing footfall in town centres.

It really doesn’t take a genius to work out that councils charging people ever more for the privilege of coming in to their town centres to spend their hard earned cash is not the best plan to grow footfall. Set it against a backdrop of spiralling motoring costs and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Look at it like the average consumer probably does: do I go to the out-of-town shopping centre where car parking is free? Or my local town centre where I’ll have to pay around £3 or £4 for privilege of parking for just a few hours, with the added worry of getting a ticket if I’m more than a few minutes late?

Remove the parking charge though and it might go something like this: do I go to the out-of-town shopping centre? Or my local town centre, with loads more shops, more choice, and better value?

It’s a no brainer.

There’s some rather worrying national research which shows an alarming number of shops closing down, and its gathering pace. Between 2000 and 2009 15,000 retailers rolled down the shutters in town centres. A further 10,000 closed in 2010 and 2011.

Undoubtedly the deterioration of the economy was partly behind this, and with things not really expected improve that much next year, councils must take action. Certainly if they want to see fewer empty properties blighting their high streets.

It’s no longer acceptable for councils only to offer free parking at Christmas to help traders during the festive period, a tactic which in itself shows councils do understand the link between free parking and increased trade.
If councils want thriving town centres with improved occupancy levels then they need to take drastic action without delay.

If they want to see more boarded-up shops, and tumbleweed blowing down the high street, then they are heading the right way.