Examining the case for free parking in Preston

Posted on - 28th September, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Roads, Transport
Avenham Car Park Pic: Preston City Council
Avenham Car Park Pic: Preston City Council

Parking – and whether it should be free – is a topic that is often discussed in the Blog Preston comments.

We’ve seen many a negative comparison from readers on the cost of parking in Preston versus other nearby locations such as Chorley, Leyland and Blackburn.

After a recent poll on X by Preston Phone Box indicated that more people would visit the city centre if free parking was available, we decided to examine the case for free parking in Preston.

While the largest shopping centres – St George’s and Fishergate – did not respond to our request for comment on the topic, both local councils replied to say any possibility free parking would be hampered by factors such as finances and logistics.

Preston City Council owns four car parks in the city, located at Penny Street, Hill Street and Trinity Square, plus the Avenham multi-storey.

Councillor Carol Henshaw, Preston City Council cabinet member for climate change, said: “Comparing car parking charges across different areas is quite difficult as the charges are based on multiple factors – the financial position of the local authority; it’s value as a destination for shopping and leisure; land values; climate change concerns; and supply and demand.

“It’s no secret the financial position of this and many other local authorities has been stretched over a number of years and this income stream is one that we reluctantly rely on. However, we are planning to implement our usual offer of some free parking in the run up to Christmas to help both residents and retailers.

“The city council owns four car parks, a fraction of the parking offer within the city centre and is considered good value for money. We would also encourage residents who can, to use different methods of transport such as walking, cycling or public transport to get into Preston, which fits in with our climate change strategy for carbon reduction and also improves the health and wellbeing of our residents.”

Read more: Looking at air quality in Preston as Council confirms no plans to introduce ULEZ

Lancashire County Council, which runs the Bus Station car park and is responsible for on-street parking, recently approved a raft of changes including the extension of roadside pay and display charging to Sundays.

County Councillor Rupert Swarbrick, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Offering free parking would need to be considered as part of the business case for a wider city centre strategy alongside Preston City Council, and companies who provide the majority of off-street parking in the city centre.

“The Preston Bus Station car park provides a relatively small proportion of the spaces available in the city centre, and our main focus is on ensuring that the on-street parking we’re responsible for is enforced and balances the demands of businesses, residents and visitors.

“Changing the way we regulate parking at the bus station, even for a short trial, would not be straightforward as it would require potentially costly changes to our ticketing technology, enforcement practices, and legal traffic regulations.”

Read more: Preston city centre on-street parking changes coming including scrapping free Sundays

The Preston Phone Box poll asked: “If you could park for free for two hours in all Preston car parks would you visit the city centre more?” Results showed that 77 per cent of the 275 respondents answered Yes.

When posting the results, the Phone Box commented: “3/4 of the people who answered the poll said they would visit the city centre more if parking was free for a time. For the sake of a few £3 parking charges wouldn’t it make more sense to have people visiting/spending in our shops, pubs, restaurants and other venues.”

Meanwhile a 2022 Preston BID survey of around 600 people revealed just under half of respondents thought parking was ‘about the right price’, but a third thought it was ‘a little too expensive’ or ‘much two expensive’. Around one fifth said it was ‘slightly cheaper’ or ‘much cheaper’ than they would expect.

When asked about Preston’s parking, Chair of Preston BID John Boydell said: “Preston city centre’s parking provision is vast, and with a two-hour stay in a city centre car park starting at £1.10 for surface car parks, and £2 at the shopping centres, we believe that it represents good value for most drivers.

“The 2022 Public Survey which the BID undertook, showed that 66 per cent of respondents said that parking in Preston was either ‘much cheaper than they would expect’, ‘slightly cheaper than they would expect’, or ‘about the right price’. 

“We recognise that if people were asked if they would like free parking, the majority of people would say yes. The BID annually co-ordinates the city’s free Christmas parking offer, and given its popularity, the BID understands that a free parking offer for city centre visitors at other key times of the year, would be well received.”

Local businesses Blog Preston spoke to felt the Preston Phone Box poll to be an accurate representation of public feeling, saying they believe free parking would help them continue trading.

Green Pheasant Gifts in Winckley Street opened in 2020. Owner Jade said: “If they would offer free parking even for a couple of days a week I’m sure it would encourage people into the city.”

Town House Coffee and Brew Bar – located in the beleaguered Friargate – agreed, saying: “Free parking would definitely attract a lot of people back to the area and benefit traders.

“I think if they linked free day time parking around the area of the renovation when it’s completed then people would definitely use it and it would encourage people to see the change of the area.”

Read more: Friargate frustration as promised autumn reopening date slips to ‘in time for Christmas’

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