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Should you pay to park at the pub?

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Some pubs have started installing pay-and-display machines to stop shoppers and even parents on the school run using their car parks. But is this fair?

Image of a pub exterior

The Old Bell pub in the upmarket Hertfordshire village of Harpenden caused quite a stir when it installed pay-and-display parking machines in its car park.

Instead of parking for free, drivers now face charges of up to £10, and the Old Bell isn’t the only pub that’s decided to impose fees.

The White Horse in Headington, Oxford, charges up to £8 for parking, along with the Buck Inn at Sale, Cheshire, while the Fleece Inn at Penwortham in Lancashire charges £1 for two hours’ parking.

Why are pubs doing this?

The Spirit Pub Company, which owns both the Old Bell and Fleece Inn, says it operates pay-and-display schemes in around 100 of its pubs and claims they are usually introduced to stop people parking there for long periods if they’re not paying customers.

Often seen as free car parks, some pubs are finding spaces are regularly taken up by local shoppers, commuters and parents on the school run.

Mums and dads using the car park of the Longbow pub in Arnold, Nottingham, twice a day during the school run caused so many problems the landlord has recently imposed a 50p parking charge.

Staff claim on occasions delivery vans have problems getting in and parents regularly bring children in to use the toilet without even buying a bag of crisps or a drink.

Parking limits and costs

How much you pay, along with any time limits, will depend on the individual pub.

Some pubs charge an hourly rate, with a maximum limit or like the Buck Inn, offer an initial free hour’s parking followed by an hourly charge.

At the Old Bell in Harpenden, you can park for three hours for £1, but beyond that it jumps to £10 so if you’re planning a leisurely Sunday lunch you might need to keep an eye on your watch.

Parking is however free after 6pm.

Do you get your money back?

In most cases any parking charges are refunded on food or drink bought on the premises, providing you show your parking receipt.

However it's worth checking the rules, as in the case of the Old Bell, while you can get back your initial £1 charge, its £10 charge isn’t refundable.

Does it work?

Paying for pub parking can be a controversial issue, especially in areas where historically it’s always been free.

In Penwortham, the decision to charge at the Fleece Inn has created a division within the local community according to local business owner Jenna Whittingham, who runs Beauty & The Boutique in the village.

"Our clients have used the Fleece Inn for years and we’ve had staff parties there, but since the refurbishment they’re charging for parking which means some of my clients have to dash across the road in the middle of treatments."

Fleece owner The Spirit Pub Company admits this is one scheme that hasn’t worked and is now planning to remove the pay-and-display meters.

Don’t get caught out

If the pub’s parking operation is run by an outside company you can risk hefty fines if you overstay your time limit, or fail to buy a ticket.

According to the signage outside some pubs this can be as much as £60.

And even if parking is free, check if time limits apply.

One Bristol-based pub in the Brewers Fayre chain hit the headlines after a family faced a £60 parking fine – which escalated to £400 as a result of non-payment - after their family lunch ran over the three-hour free-parking limit. The pub later waived the charge.

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