Lack of parking spaces and ticket-happy traffic wardens are making life difficult for c-store owners, says Mark Wingett.

Parking is a major concern for the owners of small businesses. Due to their size and often their central location, small businesses do not enjoy the benefit of large parking facilities.

A survey from the Federation of Small Businesses puts the cost to small businesses of poor transport infrastructure at £755m a year. The survey reports that 37% of store owners and managers say traffic congestion has the single biggest negative effect on their trade.

FSB spokesman David Bishop says businesses rely on the movement of goods and people and on their ability to stop at their desired destination. “Parking is, therefore, vital not just for store owners and their employees but also for deliveries and customers.”
A Better Regulation Taskforce Report from July 2001 Local Shops: A Progress on Small Firms Regulation revealed more than half (52%) of small businesses were dissatisfied with the parking provision outside their store.

The FSB’s Bishop adds: “The lack of free, public parking spaces for customers has a disproportionate impact on small businesses, particularly those based in the local high street. In many local communities, the businesses in town centres are predominantly small independent retailers who rely heavily on trade from surrounding areas. Also, the lack of public transport options for rural communities means there’s little alternative but to use cars.”

The absence of free, convenient car parking in town centres can encourage shoppers to take their cars and custom to out of town shopping locations, usually dominated by the major multiples.

“Small businesses are often already at a disadvantage to these larger stores as they can’t offer the same low prices or special offers. The lack of parking only exacerbates matters,” adds Bishop.

Providing parking spaces and avoiding traffic congestion has become a constant source of frustration for Mike Howe, who runs the Londis store in the village of Clyst St Mary, Devon.

He explains: “There isn’t much space to park outside the store but what there is comes in handy to pick up passing trade. However, the local villagers, who are also important to my trade, believe new traffic causes congestion and they are looking to put in speed bumps and to narrow the road to avoid this.

“Then there are my deliveries, which take place before 7am to avoid causing trouble. If that had to change, there would be a problem. I need a designated parking space or two outside the store but I doubt I’d get permission. What I don’t want is the road being turned into such a no-go area for drivers that they don’t drive past at all.”

For the Forum of Private Businesses (FPB), which lobbies on behalf of small- and medium-sized enterprises to create a better political and economic environment for them, local authorities operating zero-tolerance approaches to parking in town and city centres do not help the issue of parking outside c-stores.

FSB chief executive Nick Goulding says: “Too many councils are operating overbearing, aggressive approaches to parking. Many small retailers are facing increasingly stiff competition from supermarkets and out of town shopping centres which offer free parking. “Councils can rub their hands in glee watching the coffers being swelled by parking fines but an over-zealous parking policy can only undermine trade in any town or city. Councils should be doing everything in their power to attract shoppers, not scare them away.”

Goulding believes councils need to create more parking spaces and make parking more convenient and affordable. He says: “The attitudes the majority of local authorities have toward parking must change. Shoppers need to see parking wardens exercising discretion and reason, otherwise a town centre just gets a bad name.”

Tony Collier, who runs the general food store Zone One in Middleton, Greater Manchester, backs up this view. He and other retailers in the town centre clubbed together to install an air raid siren on the high street, which is used to warn customers that traffic wardens are in the area. Tony explains: “We believe the local council is being over-zealous when it comes to clamping down on parking. It’s making a fortune out of us: commercial vehicles can only make deliveries between 5.30pm and 10am, while private vehicles are barred from parking here at all. Half our customers are being driven away. How are we meant to get customers into the stores if they can’t park?”

Sainsbury’s at JB Beaumont, which operates from six locations in the East Midlands, puts an emphasis on providing parking for its customers. Managing director Paul Beaumont says: “We aim to get consumers coming to our stores to do much more than just a top-up shop. In this respect, we always look to provide car parking spaces when we take on a site. At our store in Cotsgrave, Nottinghamshire, we knocked down a house to provide up to 30 parking spaces. The local council was happy with our plans because it stopped cars parking on the busy street in front of the store and causing traffic build-up.”

According to Tim Scott, Nisa-Today’s store survey consultant, having car parking spaces outside or near your store doesn’t automatically translate into higher footfall. He says: “Whether retailers invest in having car parking spaces outside their stores depends very much on the site. “For stores in city centres and densely populated areas, for example near universities, the need for parking spaces is not as essential as those on main roads or in neighbourhoods.

“As a rule, the higher the square footage, the higher the turnover and the more need for parking spaces. However, there are some poor stores with car parking spaces who are being outperformed by nearby better stores without parking facilities. It’s not a fixed science.”

Scott acknowledges that when it comes to stopping your car to shop, the mood of the customer is key. He says: “Unfortunately, there’s no hard evidence to relate the availability of parking spaces to turnover. There are too many variables to take into consideration, for example the customer’s mood. Even when there are double yellow lines, many customers park on the curb and nip in for a quick shop anyway.”

28% of people have searched for more than 20 minutes for a parking space at their intended destination

14% of non-disabled people have parked in a disabled designated space due to lack of parking

Drivers spend around six minutes driving in the centre of town actively seeking a parking space

Parking constraints are restricting parking provision but car ownership and use are continuing to grow

Local authorities’ total capital spending on parking in the UK was £29m in 2003, compared to £48m on cycling and £75m on pedestrian facilities

29% of people have given up their journey and gone home due to the lack of parking.

More than a quarter of London retailers inside the congestion charge zone are considering closing down because the £5 fee is deterring shoppers, according to a new survey by the London Chamber of Commerce.

The research also showed 80% of the 330 retailers questioned believed their revenue had fallen since the controversial toll was introduced in February 2003.
Plans by London Mayor Ken Livingstone to increase the daily charge to £8 from July 4 have also been attacked by retail groups, but some retailers have seen turnover increase since the toll was introduced thanks to having a PayPoint terminal.

Navnit Patel, who runs the Quix store in Clerkenwell in the City of London, says: “I’ve definitely seen an increase in customer flow through the store due to people needing to pay for the congestion charge. “Thankfully, when people come in here to pay the charge they often pick up some other items at the same time.”

However, not everyone has seen this rise in turnover. NT Patel, who runs the Spar store near Westminster Bridge, says: “Customer traffic and consequently sales have been slightly down since the toll came into force. “I dread to think what will happen if, as expected, the charge goes up.”

Source: RAC Foundation