Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Yellow Lines

Not so Mellow Yellow…..

We are reading a great deal these days about the high street, lack of sales, night time binge drinking, security/safety issues, congestion charges; lack of parking and the list goes on.

Having attended recent local authority meetings, senior level discussions with Transport for London and meetings with various Property Search Companies a disappointing message comes through….there is no long term strategy and no joined up thinking in regards to the health of our high streets. Even more disappointing is the fact that no one has considered looking at the effect of all the policies against the consumers need to park and thus to shop. All we read about is the down turn is due to the internet or the down turn in consumer spending and the economy. The community as a whole and their needs are not really understood.

Let us consider any high street in any district of our major cities or small towns in the UK, what we find is a high street that has double yellow lines on it’s main thorough fare and it’s side streets, we have a growth of no parking zones (permit holders only) due to local residence demands to park their second car on or in front of their home, we have a huge growth in parking meters being installed (sadly at £1 for 20 minutes) On top of this the quick free parking that used to exist at the local station is now controlled and prices have risen since 2003 by 500%, certainly this is the case from York to St Albans to Brighton and across the UK.

The local hotels have also put up barriers or controls the local residence parking…get the picture? So what we have is a ‘situation’ here. That situation has been created by local and government policies that do not act strategically, by alienating the car, the consumer has been driven (excuse the pun) away from the high street. This in turn creates a lack of high street traffic and therefore a lack of sales, causing the likes of the regional Boots, WH Smiths and necessary commodity brands (butcher, chemist, banks, dry cleaners) to close down in our local high streets. This then is reflected in a drop in rateable values, collections of VAT, and sales taxed related income for town councils. This drives the councils to create new income streams, so they inflict car parking policies to drive income from parking permits, traffic related parking tickets via the double yellow line and the infamous parking meter charge. Considered an easy target and a easy income stream. This in turn shuts off consumers from the high street as it is no longer as convenient to shop, the type of shops become non core or secondary brands (down market) and a downward spiral begins....upward only rents and increased rates just add to this scenerio..

So let us take a typical Mum, she arguably needs to park close to the shops to jump out of the car collect the dry cleaning or pick up the prescription from the local chemist, often directly outside as little Jonny ,the son, is in the car seat fast asleep. This she can no longer do.
Or lets look at the 45+ year old couple who decide to go out to dinner or lunch (by the way 40-60 year old market is the fastest consumer spening profile and growing), they still have the same issues, the cost or convenience to park is restrictive, meters often charge for 18 hours a day, besides the local Indian or Italian is now a take away to accommodate the Yates late night trade, so actually theirs no where decent on the high street left to eat anyway. The youth will train it in or car pool so the intimidation factor is high from 7pm-1am; just go to York on a Thursday night and find a pub, bar or restaurant that does not have a doorman (polite 2009 speak for bouncer) at their entrances, what does that tell you?

So we have this ‘situation’ the car is black listed, the taxable income for towns and cities is shrinking, the smaller towns get empty shops, the high street deteriorates and the consumers go to out of town for shopping, eat at home or shop via the internet. Interestingly the local village or small out of or off town gastro pubs are doing a roaring and rural trade…not due I would argue to the economy but due to ease of parking....convenience and the need for a safer, cleaner, points of differences....

Can you find a successful local cinema operating on a high street? Can you find a high street where the local paper is not discussing Boots/WHSmith or the local chemist closing?. Is this totally due to consumer demand or changing shopping habits…absolutely to a certain extent but the car and our love affair with the freedom it delivers or should deliver needs to be put into local town planning policies? Perhaps sacrificing rent or rates on a high street location in consideration of free 30 minute parking is worth considering. Perhaps having a planning policy that says we need a mix of local, branded retail outlets and tax breaks for cinemas and theatres. Perhaps even the local Italian is important to the community? A high street gym or health club is finding it hard to make ends meet due to restrictive parking policies. These businesses create footfall and support a healthy high street infrastructure.
I will leave you with this one thought. ‘Is not the heart of a high street and it’s mix of businesses something to consider in planning a policy and thus the consideration of parking to create a healthy high street worth an overall policy change- a change a thinking is now a necessity?

So as we grow older, we mellow but we face the dreaded yellow lines of authority…. If you have a view, contact me on stephen@movingfood.com

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