Free parking "not the best way" to attract shoppersBy Jon Nurse
January 03, 2013
Business champions believe free car parking is not the best way to attract more shoppers to the borough’s towns.
Mark Walton, Wokingham Chamber of Commerce president, claims car parking is not the deciding factor as to why people do or don’t shop in towns, as a lobby group urges councils to scrap the fees to support small businesses.
The Forum of Private Business is calling for councils across the country to drop town centre car parking charges to increase footfall.
But Mr Walton said: “Reducing them to zero may increase footfall in the short term, but you have to look at the bigger picture as to why people go shopping.”
The forum believes removing charges would make town centres a more attractive place to do business and reduce the number of empty units.
Alex Jackman, the forum’s head of policy, said: “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that councils charging people ever more for the privilege of coming in to their town centres to spend their hard-earned cash is not the best plan to grow footfall.
“Set it against a backdrop of spiralling motoring costs and it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Mr Walton continued: “In Reading parking fees at The Oracle are significantly higher than Wokingham, but there is always a queue because of the overall experience of going into Reading.
“People will shop in Wokingham when they have got the shops they want to go in, at the price they want to pay and the services they want to receive, such as going out for lunch, visiting a coffee shop or if the market is on.”
He added: “The key is that car parking fees are a small piece of the jigsaw and it comes down to quality and mix of shops and that extra shopping experience.”
Councillor Keith Baker, executive member for highways and planning, says footfall in town centres across the borough is on the rise and feels the charges are ‘a great success’.
He added: “The implication is that car parking is potentially putting people off.
“If that was the case I would be minded to agree with them – but it’s not the case here.
“Across the borough there was a 4.6 per cent rise in ticket sales in the last financial year, following a 6.2 per cent rise the year before.
“I think it’s a great success and when it’s put together I don’t think we need to stimulate more people to come in.”
Cllr Baker said the latest council data continues to show the same upwards trend.
He added car parking charges were last raised in October 2008 and insisted fees have reduced year on year when inflation is factored in.