Parking, it’s a big thing – we can all agree on that. You can pretty much guarantee that when we go to a new Totally Locally town to give a talk, a workshop or a masterclass parking will be brought up as ‘an issue’.

So bear with us, grab a brew and a biscuit and we’ll explore parking as another part of our sporadic Elephant In The Room blog posts.

Totally Locally and the Totally Locally kit are a different way of doing things in a town, a new way of thinking, about businesses collaborating, promoting each other, talking the town up (not down) – yes OK, we get that, but how does that relate to parking – well, we literally park it, so to speak.

You see, towns have been talking about Parking, Dog Mess, Business Rates and the rest for 30 odd years and they’ll be talking about them for the next 30. And that’s the thing, they are talking about them, suggesting to the Council how things could be improved, having a meeting or a workshop. Then a few new shops open, they’re all enthusiastic and they join in with the cycle – but generally nothing changes – other than a lot of energy is used up on thinking, talking, surveying, workshopping, bringing in consultants to talk about parking ad infinitum. But does anything ever get done?

We’re not saying that these things aren’t a potential problem but its easy to blame something that is seen as a barrier and someone else’s responsibility as the reason why the town isn’t as busy as you’d like it to be or ‘the grass is greener’ syndrome because a neighbouring town is 20p an hour cheaper so that’s why people aren’t in town.

Totally Locally isn’t about revisiting the old common issues as they generally won’t change just because a new group of enthusiastic businesses and residents get together BUT what you can do is use that energy and enthusiasm to promote your town to its residents, getting them to come back into town, do some shopping and create some life and buzz. And that’s what the Totally Locally kit helps you to do through a professionally designed marketing and PR campaign.

If you’ve read this far here are some of our FAQ’s on parking:

Compare this to city centre car parks at a few £’s per hour, they always seem to be busy? It comes back to the engagement of local residents. If they know that the town has shops that they want to use they will be happy to pay for parking, it’s a cost vs value proposition

Free parking can be a very attractive draw done well (also see above). How long would the free parking need to be though to make it really work? If free parking is only 30 minutes on street what can be done in that limited time – a quick flying visit to one shop, then “I must dash, parking’s up!” All day free parking, it tends to get clogged up with commuters car sharing and taking advantage of the free parking, shop staff park in the free parking blocking it for customers. One town we know of gives the indoor market traders a free long stay pass to use in the town centre short stay car park or an edge of town long stay car park. What happens? On market day the short stay car park is full of market traders vans and traders on the market complaining there’s no parking in town for their customers…. go figure! Although there maybe an argument for, say 2 hours free parking as supermarkets do, is this the solution to draw people into town or just wishful thinking that 2 hours would fix parking problems – we tend to think not.

Supermarkets, especially out-of-town, have had a big impact on town centres. That is undeniable but is it just free parking that draws customers in. Or the convenience, the fact that they are open from 7 or 8am until 9 or 10pm at night. Until our high streets and independent shops are open the same hours as supermarkets (unrealistic of course) we’ll never know. But supermarkets offer 2 hours free parking, is that really the reason people choose to go to a supermarket over town shopping? Or a perceived convenience, competitiveness, choice? If the opening hours weren’t the deciding factor and you knew the products in town were better quality, you had similar choice and the price was better (it often is) would you begrudge a few pounds to park?

Wouldn’t we all?  Especially in rural areas, with poor public transport facilities. You may not have any option other than to drive into town and if you’re doing that why not be able to park outside where you want to go to? In an ideal world this would be great, then everyone would be driving around and around to each place they want to shop – the reality is rather different and most towns we’ve talked to have enough parking spaces, unfortunately not outside each shop. Again if customers are aware of whats in town they’ll be happy exploring a little more, shopping in different shops. If they are struggling with getting their shopping to their car is their anyway you could help?

Whilst some towns may have a shortfall we’ve also been to towns with the same argument only to hear there is a car park a couple of minutes walk from the town centre that is empty. When we’ve mentioned this the answer is something like “Oh people won’t park there, it’s too far away”. So there is parking but, again, not the parking people think they want. Of course there are some towns who do have a lack of parking spaces, then it isn’t the cost that is the problem. Is there any empty ground that the business community could take over and run through a CIC to provide parking, could more businesses and staff car share to free up spaces, cycle into work or walk now and again.

The situations above are a few of  the most common complaints we hear about parking in town centres. We know a few of our replies may read as a bit too flippant but they are meant to be. We really believe that the parking argument in 90% of towns in the UK can be shelved and the energy put to better use talking about the great independent shops and businesses in your town, creating events and markets to give people a reason to come into town. Once they (re)discover the great place they live they won’t begrudge paying for the parking.

If there is a common thread in the successful towns that we work with it is that parking isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it was before they started on their Totally Locally journey. It hasn’t been fixed in 30 years of talking about it, its highly unlikely it will be fixed in the next 30 either – but you can do an awful lot of other things in those 30 years.