Something needs to be done to save our London shops!

Save our London Shops. London High Streets Under Threat

Double yellow parking restrictions and exorbitant fines threaten the future of high street shopping in London (Photo from flickr)

 

Over zealous and inflexible parking restrictions in our city centres are creating havoc and could be the death knell for the local, independent, high street trader.

The consequences will be dire. Deserted high streets will:

  1. impede the local economy, by killing off small businesses and putting people out of work
  2. increase the risk of crime
  3. remove local services and facilities – critical for those that can’t travel further afield by car.
  4. lead to less environmentally-friendly behaviour by forcing us to drive more and drive further out-of-town shops
  5. reduce the quality of life for everyone who live in our towns and cities.

Local authorities in London and the rest of the county have been able to apply ever increasing charges for parking and have, over the years, applied ever more “efficient” enforcement.

Much publicised in the press in the last week or so is the extra-ordinary amounts of money that they have collected through parking fines – exceeding some amounts appropriate for crimes much more damaging to society in general. Drivers in central London have paid £125 million out in the past year alone!

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Double yellow parking restrictions and exorbitant fines threaten the future of high street shopping in London!

Food shopping used to be a simple and even pleasant activity, but not now. Most good independent bakers are situated in small parades of shops, and if you add the price of parking to the cost of the bread itself, it makes for a very expensive loaf. And be careful not to wander into any other shop in the parade ( which was of course the idea behind a parade of shops ), or risk being fined for staying parked for too long. All of a sudden that loaf of bread has now cost you up to £3 a slice, and far more likely to eschew the independent baker in future in favour of  the supermarket where you can not only park for free, but shop in a relaxed way without having to watch the clock for fear of being fined.

Probable conclusion?

It’s just much easier to go to the supermarket. Lucy Tobin wrote about this in the Evening Standard recently and referred to £2 for 20 minutes parking loyalty –  a lot to ask.

So there’s the problem. Expensive and heavily enforced car parking. Some say that’ll reduce car use and “quite right too”. But an independent baker doesn’t survive on just those within walking distance; their draw is much wider. People have to get there somehow, and not everybody rides a bike!

So what’s the effect on this type of shop? In short, it’s dire! Independent shops are closing all over the country, and if this is allowed to continue, traditional shopping parades will just die. Mary Portas’ highly publicised campaign to save the high street has certainly raised awareness – both in Joe Public, but critically within government circles, but I fear it’s still a losing battle:  supermarkets and on-line shopping have simply removed a vital part of their traditional trade, and aggressive parking restrictions have exacerbated their difficulties.

So what can be done about this?

Firstly we need to accept that the huge number of independent shops that have already vanished are not going to come back. Times change and we need to move on and live in the present. Having said that, the independent shops that remain add tremendous value to our lives, and we need to make changes that not only make it easier for them to survive, but also allow them to thrive.

The Government’s idea to allow parking on double yellow lines doesn’t make much sense: Double yellows are positioned in places where the danger risks have been assessed. It would fly in the face of logic to allow parking in already dangerous roads.

Allowing stopping on single yellow lines, however,  is a far more sensible option. Let people park free for 20 mins maximum on single yellow lines or any parking bay. In essence, this is only what used to happen. I remember traffic wardens would allow some leeway and it all seemed to work well. Now with the over zealous enforcement ( by contractors maybe, but sanctioned by the relevant local authority ) a once workable system is broken and the negative consequences are immense.

You only have to look at the some areas in the  US, where the end of high street trading, has decimated local economies and increased crime in deserted town centres.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy”

We are repeatedly told by the Government that small businesses are the backbone of the economy and the key to a sustainable economic recovery. In that case the government should back up their words with action and help the interdependent traders on the high street.

We are told – for many legitimate reasons – to use our cars less. And this is used to justify parking restrictions and heavy fines for those that violate them. But out of town supermarkets fly in the face of this social engineering, and actually encourage us to use our cars more and to drive further! A short trip to the local shops is surely far more environmentally friendly.

Don’t kill off the goose!

We are fully aware that parking charges and fines provide considerable funds for local authority spending. But if we continue with the current approach, it will kill off the goose that lays the golden eggs:

This needs sorting out now. We need to think longer term. No free parking now will equal no local shops in the near future, which in turn will equal no money raised from parking charges as the demand for parking will have evaporated!  A limited amount of free parking now, combined with less oppressive and more flexible enforcement, will help us avoid this catastrophe.