Car Parking: is it a business or service?

The question on whether car parking and associated charges is a business or service is one that has failed to be answered since the formation of Cornwall Council. This is despite numerous requests to senior officers and the CEO for it to be answered. I am pleased to say, in what I believe is a break-though, the panel has now been tasked (the panel did not have the remit to just do the work without being tasked) to investigate that question, and if the panel could go someway to answer it

I think everyone will agree, the high-street has changed, and will continue to change. The change is not just down to the economic climate either. The panel was told some startling figures on the real pressures facing the high-street. This information sourced via the DGLG and the Portas report showed 35-43% of all national sales are carried out using a supermarket. The Internet currently counts for 10% of national sales, but it is set to rise to 35% in 2020. So it is clear the pressures on the high-street will only get worse. I believe town centre needs to be more than retail if it has any chance of survival.

From this work a report has been completed looking into the question. The report is taken from two view points; those of parking services, and also from the view of a town centre expert. As you would imagine, the two sides have different views, but I am pleased to say some common ground. The report can be found HERE. And by reading it, it will give a clearer understanding of the panel’s response, and its recommendations to the Portfolio Holder.

So what did the panel make of the report, and what recommendations has it made to the Portfolio Holder? The panel made six recommendations as follows:

  • The Panel does not accept the principle described in the report that because town centres support private businesses then car parks should operate similarly, but recognises that centres also fulfil and essential social function encouraging social interaction, mobility, exercise and general well-being and that they serve to counter the increasing and general well-being and that they serve to counter the increasing trend to an isolated mode of living
  • The Panel notes and entirely concurs with the Cabinet decision not to increase tariffs in line with inflation in recognition of its consideration given to the importance of town centre vitality in Cornwall. The Panel considers this is an essential financial model to be retained for the foreseeable future
  • The Panel considers that is in principle wrong to separate the car parking service from the holistic function of Cornwall Council which is a service to maintain and enhance the well-being of its residents and businesses. Accordingly, the panel believes that it is inappropriate to designate all the larger car parks on purely business principles, but does consider that destination car parks may be considered in that way
  • The Panel believes that, unless a compelling individual case can be made, town centre car parks should not be defined or operated as businesses but considered an adjunct to the vitality and viability of the adjoining town centre and that parking charges should be set accordingly
  • Future consideration to be given whether car parking revenue should not be target led

The panel has also asked for a further report taking into consideration the five recommendations be prepared to allow future consideration of the issue of car parks as ‘services’ or ‘businesses’.

Now I know this report, or the recommendations that have been made, is not the magic wand to solve car parking issues, or save the town centres, but it is an important start, which should have been answered years ago.


  • Gill Martin

    Re page 6 of the report, if a service car-park is supposed
    to be maintained in a safe condition, then why are service
    car-parks not all gritted throughout adverse weather

  • Thank you Andrew for this article, also the work of the Parking Advisory Panel and your input to Cabinet in November. I remember when car parks were always free – they were provided to allow vehicles to park without interfering with traffic flow.

    Do you know if any town council in Cornwall has considered making up the shortfall in revenue to enable town-centre parking charges to be reduced thereby encouraging more shoppers to use them?

    I feel that Council Tax or Business Rates (particularly that of out-of-centre/out-of-town retailers) are the proper channels for raising revenue – parking charges are just damaging our centres and encouraging businesses to close or move out.

  • Andrew Wallis

    Hi David,

    A couple of towns pay Cornwall Council a fee, which keeps a car park free. The main one is Penryn, but Saltash offer some sort of free parking. Another will be St Just one the legal agreement has been signed.

    Cornwall Council view is more town councils wish to offer this service, it will be welcomed.

  • Thanks for info.
    I see there is season-ticket scheme for council car parks in Cornwall aimed presumably at workers maybe using a car park for 40hrs a week – I’ve asked around and find that instead of paying the £400 odd per year, many of Looe’s town-centre workers park on-street and then walk the rest.
    For most shoppers this scheme would be way too expensive, so has anyone thought of providing a ‘shoppers parking pass’ that provides a tenth of the time for a tenth of the cost – say £40 annually for 4 hours per week?

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