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.