Since the upgrade of the Market Place in Grantham was suggested, there has been controversy over the loss of free car parking spaces in the centre of town.
This has got me thinking about the correlation between free car parking spaces and the vibrancy of the town centre. Does free, on street car parking add value to the town centre? Will the town be damaged if free car parking is removed?
Now, looking at Grantham town centre as a whole, there is a fair amount of free parking. However, these car parking spaces are normally by large supermarkets or in retail parks. This encourages shoppers to patronise the larger retail chains but there is very little incentive to walk into different areas of town, due to the time limits imposed and the awkward pedestrian routes.
This is where the strengths are for free, on street car parking. It allows shoppers to drive into the town centre where a large number of independent retailers are situated. There are short time limits on these on street spaces though, so do not encourage the shopper to explore.
To analyse the potential impacts of the removal of free car parking spaces in rural towns we can look at studies in other areas of the country. For example, a small survey was conducted in Kingsbridge and Torbay.
This survey showed that the majority of people travelled to shop by car, and would be deterred from shopping in the town centres if they had to pay for parking.
Lincolnshire County Council has reccomended against introducing Pay & Display bays to replace all free on street parking bays due to the concerns that this would negatively impact on the economy of the rural towns of the county.
This sounds like a good decision to me. It is therefore important that we use this resource effectively as well as encouraging more shoppers to use council owned car parks to extend their stay in the town centre.
To maximise the effect of free car parking spaces:
- Ensure that free car parking spaces are concentrated around the main independent retailers.
- Remove free spaces where they have a negative impact on traffic flow or residential areas, with a view to implementing Residential Parking Schemes.
- All council owned car parks should have at least 1hr free parking, to encourage shoppers to explore the shops.
- Offer occasional “free parking” days to encourage more visitors to town, possibly linking in with town celebrations (e.g. Carnival, St. George’s Day celebrations).
So, in answer to the question posed at the start of this post, an exact figure is hard to quantify but it seems that Grantham is still in need of free car parking spaces. It is how these spaces are managed that is key to the future prosperity of the town.