An Taisce: Car Parking and Town Centre degradation

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From a press release by An Taisce 31/1/2013:

An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, asks Ministers Hogan and Varadkar to bring forward proposals to levy charges on out of town retail parking and for that levy to be passed on to car based customers of those out of town centre. An Taisce’s proposal will help level the playing field between town centre and out of town venues. An Taisce notes similar proposals by RGDATA in their report ‘Nightmare on every street, Town Centres, Car Parking and Smart Travel’.

An Taisce has long fought for Irish Town Centres, their vibrancy and viability is so important to the quality of life of their inhabitants, their tourists and those in their hinterland. Ireland is one of the world’s most car dependant nations and so the ease of parking one’s car has a considerable influence on where to shop. Town centre viability is thus threatened as councils impose parking charges in town centres, whereas out of town centres provide free parking to their customers.

Following the success of the Dublin Bicycle scheme there is the opportunity for a rebate to out of town centres that provide a similar bicycle hire scheme.

Urban sprawl and dispersed settlements make it impossible to provide economically viable public transport, so many people are car dependent by necessity. The combination of Climate Change and Peak Oil is going to severely impact on our ability to afford to drive our cars. We must now turn away from the mistakes of the past and align planning and development with the long-term interests of the public. We must return to strong and vibrant town centres, which are currently under stress but which should provide a community where the majority of one’s needs are available within walking or bicycling distance.



Key questions on parking levy for uncharged retail spaces:

1. Would it be possible for councils to implement such a measure even though the shopping centres are privately owned?

Yes, An Taisce is urging the introduction of national governing legislation. Working along similar lines to the hugely-successful plastic bag levy, the government would provide that the charge is passed through to the user.

2. How should public transport be defined for the purposes of the levy?

Government could, for example, provide that public transport – for the purposes of the retail parking levy – means a bus or rail service operating at frequencies of 30 minutes, or less, during business hours and where there is a stop within 150m of an entrance to the retail centre.

3. City centre businesses are at a disadvantage because of the free parking offered at shopping centres outside the city, but could an out-of-town retail parking charge tilt the scales too far in the other direction?

Not if the rate is set correctly. Currently, for example, Park Magic charges 50c for half an hour in Limerick city centre and it’s very easy to pay. The proposed parking levy on parking spaces provided for free at large retail centres might be brought in at 40 or 50c per space per hour; in other words, out-of-town parking would still be less than half the price compared to city centre: at the same time some balance would be brought to the playing field.

The question partly assumes the city centre is doing fine while out-of-town is struggling. This is not the case; parking reform needs to go some way to correct the scales which currently unduly favours out of town. It is often forgotten that when money is spent in the urban centre it goes mainly to local businesses. Out-of-town retail benefits a very small number of owners disproportionately and far more revenue leaves the local area (see below).

4. What are the critical background factors at play here?

Locally based shops return twice as much money to the local economy as out-of-town retailers (delivering 32 cents out of every euro spent back into the local economy, while large out-of-town spending only returns 16 cents of every euro in revenue back into the local economy). [For the research here, see An Taisce’s submission to the reform of the Retail Planning Guidelines, 2011.] Again, it’s the same story when it comes to employment: for every 2 new jobs in an out-of-town megastore 3 jobs are lost in town centres. [See 2011 submission, ref. above].

5. Are there lessons from the plastic bag levy?

Yes, when it was brought in ten years ago the plastic bag levy began at 15c. It has been raised once – to 22c in 2007, and has generated around €170m since its introduction in 2002.

Revenue from a levy on free parking at large retail centres could be split between councils and central government. It could be used to sustain local facilities and lower the amount that will otherwise have to be paid in household taxes.

Legislation could further mandate that mobile phone technology be available to enable customers to pay with ease.