Parking restrictions in town centres puts local businesses at risk as shoppers get fed up with the charges.
Are excessive parking charges and restrictions stifling Britain’s high streets?
That is the question raised by recent events in the Welsh town of Cardigan.
In July, vandals damaged all four pay-and-display machines in Cardigan’s busiest car parks.
As the council was unable to repair the machines immediately, shoppers have been able to enjoy a period when they no longer had to pay to leave their cars.
Local traders now say they have benefited from a substantial increase in custom due entirely to the fact that motorists have not had to rush back to their vehicles before their parking entitlement runs out.
Business owners in Cardigan say that the temporary removal of parking restrictions has "levelled the playing field" when it comes to competing with large out-of-town shopping centres, where parking is usually free.
As a result of Cardigan’s experience, high-streets minister Marcus Jones has even suggested that the centres of some smaller UK towns should be declared “parking meter-free zones”.
RAC spokesman Simon Williams says: "Town centre parking is a source of major irritation for the majority of motorists.
"RAC research has found their complaints include charges going up, fewer spaces available and free-of-charge parking becoming paid for.
"One in 10 motorists say they are driving less due to the difficulty of finding parking spaces so it’s no great surprise that the vandalism of Cardigan’s pay-and-display parking machines has improved business for local shops."
High streets in decline
Recent research from the British Retail Consortium in association with analyst Springboard found that the number of shoppers heading to Britain’s high streets was continuing to fall sharply this year.
Springboard’s Diane Wehrle says: "The high cost of parking in high streets together with elongated travel times due to congestion means that urban destinations are at an obvious and increasing disadvantage."
Williams at the RAC adds: "With many councils making a surplus from their parking charges it’s no wonder traders are so irked to see their profits falling."
So should local authorities consider cutting or removing charges and restrictions in a bid to breathe life into ailing high streets?
'Striking a balance'
A spokesman for the Local Government Association says:
"Councils have to try and strike a balance when setting parking charges to ensure there are spaces available for everyone at all times of the day and we can keep traffic moving.
"If charges are too low, high-street spaces can be filled by commuters making it impossible for shoppers to park and having a negative knock-on impact on local businesses: residents and businesses expect councils to enforce the law."
The spokesman adds that local authorities "support hard-pressed motorists, shoppers and businesses" and points out that councils do not set on-street parking charges to make a profit.
"Any surplus is spent on essential transport projects, such as tackling the £12 billion roads repair backlog and creating new parking spaces."
Ian Crowder at the AA suggests that an alternative approach could involve parking restrictions and car-park fees being lifted around the edges of towns.
"There is a call especially for edge-of-town-centre parking to be free to encourage people to park and walk in to town," he says.
"This would be a win-win situation: you park for free and at the same time congestion in the centre is reduced."