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Town planners are facing new challenges as a result of a rise in on-street parking - demand has started to outgrow supply. Parking has increased along the streets of the UK, according to an in-depth study led by the British Parking Association.
Research suggests there may be a link between car parking provision and town centre prosperity. Local authority planning departments are having to juggle a number of conflicting needs, taking into account access to retail and other businesses, public transport strategies and the needs of car users.
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The more prosperous town centres are likely to have more car parks, but for less well-off areas, they have a dilemma.
If land is available to provide extra car parking, planners must weigh up the costs of building and maintaining a car park, compared with the financial opportunities of other uses for the space.
Increase in car ownership
The study, Re-Think Parking on the High Street, carried out jointly with the Association of Town and City Management and other interested organisations, suggests the problem is that many town centres were built before the days when almost every family owned a car.
Today, more than 77% of UK households own a car, according to a study by the RAC Foundation for Motoring. There has been a steady growth in car ownership over the past 40 years, due to more young people getting a driving licence and more households being able to afford a car.
In 1950, 80% of the population didn't own a car, but the number of car owners has risen steadily over the years. In the 1970s, the number of households with two cars began to increase. Today, an estimated 25.7 million households own two cars and 1.7 million households have three or more cars.
Almost 95% of people who have a driving licence drive at least once a month, while 80% drive most days. As motorists drive into town centre shopping areas, where the amount of parking space is often inadequate, the on-street congestion rises.
Do car parking charges affect congestion?
Research shows many town centres provide adequate car parks in terms of the area's footfall. However, the costs vary greatly and may prove prohibitive for some motorists.
There isn't a clear relationship between the parking charges set by the local authority and private car park operators and the amenities on offer in the town centre.
Some medium-size and small town centres charge a rate that is higher than the national average. These high streets have suffered a higher than average decline in footfall in recent years. This emphasises the importance of planners incorporating affordable parking spaces into town centre designs.
The report by the British Parking Association suggests night time parking needs must be considered as well. People driving into town centres to go for a meal, to the theatre, the cinema or other recreational activities create a very different footfall.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the leisure industry in the UK was worth £60 billion to the economy and employed 1.2 million people. As things start getting back to normal, the needs of motorists accessing the town centre amenities after dark must also be considered.
How many homes have a drive?
The parking problems in town and city centres are in addition to similar issues in residential streets. Around 40% of UK homes don't have a driveway to park their car. A study by Field Dynamics suggests 6.6 million households in the UK don’t have off street parking.
The figure varies, depending on the postcode, with 60% of city and town centre dwellers having no access to off-street parking. However, in rural districts, 83% of residents have somewhere to park off the road.
How will this affect electric cars?
The current trend to persuade motorists to change to electric cars could also create its own problems, considering the lack of driveways. Electric cars need access to on-street chargers and currently, there are only 4,453 charging points across the UK, according to research by Andersen.
While some electric car owners have their own charging point, on-street chargers make up a quarter of the total network in the UK. They provide a convenient option for householders who don't have a driveway or garage where a home charging point can be installed.
The lack of charging points is already hindering government attempts to persuade motorists to switch to electric vehicles. The southwest of England is the worst affected area, as there are 1,448 electric cars per on-street charger in the region.
Owners without off-street parking have the biggest concerns, as they will rely on public charging points if they buy an electric car.
How many people park illegally?
When there aren't enough parking spaces, millions of people take their chances and park illegally, such as on double yellow lines. In the past four years, a hefty 14 million parking fines have been issued in the UK, costing motorists £530 million, according to an analysis of local authority data by Moneyshake.
Currently, parking on the pavement is not illegal outside of London. Anyone who parks on the pavement in the capital is hit with a £70 fine. However, the Department for Transport has announced it is considering making parking on the pavement illegal across the UK.
The law is currently a grey area. The Highway Code's rule 244, introduced in 1974, stated drivers "must not park" on the pavement in London. It adds they "should not do so" elsewhere "unless signs permit it".
The RAC advises people to use common sense outside of London and to park partially on the pavement only if the road is narrow and they would cause an obstruction otherwise.
The Local Government Association is pushing for the government to standardise the regulations to bring the rest of the UK in line with London.
Around one in five of all motoring accidents in the UK happen while parking. Safety experts agree it is easier to reverse into a parking space rather than going in forwards. However, there is always a chance you're going to hit something if you don't have a clear view.
Recognising the problems young motorists in particular have with parallel parking, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has introduced parallel parking at the side of the road and parking in a bay to the driving test.
The RAC says having a reversing camera and parking aid fitted will reduce the stress of having to parallel park in tight spaces. The motoring organisation says it is most effective to use them together. They were once the realm of high-end, luxury cars, but can now be retro-fitted to many different models.