There was an interesting debate on Tuesday night in Parliament on the future of town centres and high streets. Parking was a very popular topic. With all the recent coverage on Westminster and parking, Nick de Bois made some very pertinent observations:

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con):….The wonderful “I love Enfield” campaign, which was started by Fast Signs, one of our local businesses, immediately after the riots tore through the high street, is a prime example of how local businesses, close to their community, are entirely in touch with the individuals and locations for which they provide services. Subsequently, our local Labour council started a “Love your high street” campaign, which I was fully behind, to try to bring traffic to the high street. It is thus all the more baffling that the council has persisted in introducing a steep hike in parking charges, including for Sunday parking, that is causing economic distress to traders and frustration to residents and is penalising churchgoers. It is not acceptable. As one of the local businesses said:

“If the council…are serious about regenerating town centres…then they need to consider one of the most simple ways of encouraging people to stay and shop in their community.”

At the heart of that is parking.

Since its election, Enfield’s Labour council has sought to force through drastic changes to parking regulations throughout the borough. Its initial proposals to increase parking charges, in some cases by more than 100%, and to increase the number of charging days to include Sundays and bank holidays, have created a difficult climate for local businesses. The changes faced massive opposition from residents, traders and our local newspapers—The Enfield Advertiser, which has launched a campaign, and the Enfield Independent. Despite that, the cabinet member for environment, Councillor Chris Bond, still claims that “fairness” is “at the heart” of the decision. However, as the Emma Claire hair and beauty spa salon says:

“All we constantly hear from our clients is that they no longer wish to shop or use our facilities due to the excessive amount of parking charges that Enfield council has implemented.”

It is worrying that Enfield council has refused to explain where the extra income generated will be spent. The cabinet member for finance, Councillor Andrew Stafford, claims that it will be used “to gain additional revenue” for the council’s coffers. I question that judgment, because the guidance for the Traffic Management Act 2004 stipulates that merely raising revenue should not be an objective of
parking charges. I support the campaigns by residents and newspapers to try to overturn the decision. The council must withdraw its plans, cancel Sunday parking charges, repeal the increases and help, not hinder, Enfield’s shops and businesses.”

Later in the debate, Grant Shapps replied on behalf of the Government. His comments included:

“Car parking was the No. 1 concern mentioned by Members in the 54 contributions. It is absolutely right, and in fact quite obvious, to say that in today’s society, when people either do not need to get into their car at all because they can simply click on something with a mouse to buy it or, if the option is available, as it now is in most parts of the country, drive to a shopping mall or shopping centre, an uncompetitive high street with high parking charges will always make a retail district suffer. It is absolutely essential, even in these incredibly tough times, for local authorities to appreciate that hammering the motorist visiting the local shops will not be the solution to the area’s problems, and certainly not to those of retailers. Everything comes back to the fact that in future, under the localisation of business rates, for the first time it will matter to local councillors that businesses survive and thrive, because the local business rates will be retained.

The Government have made a number of significant moves, including, for example, doubling the small business rate relief for two and half years to help small businesses through the Localism Act 2011; scrapping Whitehall planning guidance, which forced up parking charges in the past; changing the planning rules to allow councils to provide more parking spaces; and updating the licensing laws to give councils more power to tackle antisocial behaviour and, of course, the problems that came in with the 24-hour drinking laws.”