Shopping in cities – it’s the parking, stupid!

Sometimes it takes an expert to state the obvious to get those in power to take notice.

This morning retail guru Mary Portas did just that by mentioning parking charges as one of the main reasons why many of us no longer use the high street. It’s something that most of us already know and could certainly have told the government without the need for a costly review. But, of course, had it come from the general public, the idea would have been dismissed without consideration.

Take Bristol’s much revamped city centre with its Cabot Circus development. The range of shops on offer is now exponentially better than it was in the previous decade. Then, the delights of Bath, Cheltenham, Swindon and London were infinitely preferable to the paltry range of shops on offer in Bristol. The development of the out of town retail centre at Cribbs Causeway brought positive changes and then came the city centre redevelopment. Finally, Bristol has a high street worthy of its status as the largest city in the South West.

However, something unexpected has happened. Instead of making me change my shopping pattern and use these lovely new facilities in the city centre, I went twice and then went back to shopping at the out of town retail centre.

This decision wasn’t based on the shops. It was due to the parking charges. And no other reason than that.

My eldest daughter came home from school a couple of months ago asking why she was the only person in her class who had never been to Cabot Circus. It made me reflect – surely I had taken my children shopping in the city centre at some time? Obviously not! So, vowing to put this right, we set out for a girls shopping trip last weekend.

The first battle was finding a parking space. In the few cheaper car parks all the parking spaces had gone and only the expensive car parks were left. I entered one to find that the charges were £6.00 for two hours and if you went one minute over the two hours, £12.00.

That is a serious amount of money to pay before you even begin shopping. It’s like an extra tax for the privilege of using the shops.

Instead of a leisurely time surveying the vast range of retail opportunities on offer, interspersed with a cafe stop, my girls speed-shopped and instant decisions were forced. There was certainly no opportunity for indecisiveness on this trip. I would have liked to sit in a cafe with them (spending more money on the high street) but with the prospect of paying an extra £6.00 parking if I delayed, we didn’t. Instead my pre-teens were route-marched, super quick, back to the car park. The whole trip took one hour and 56 minutes.

There is something self-defeating about this. I feel I’ve done my bit and shown them what the town centre has to offer, but next time we go to Cribbs Causeway, where there are no time restrictions or parking charges.

Maybe now that there’s official recognition that parking charges are a deterrent, councils and car park owners will get together and find a reasonable solution.

Who has the most expensive charges for parking in their city centre? Can you beat Bristol’s charges? We’d like to know.

Safe cycling in the city

Would you let your child cycle on this road?

News that Bristol City Council is encouraging schemes to help children play out in their local street is heartening.

It seems that the Council are going to make it easier to temporarily close a road to all but residents cars by reworking the legislation that is used for street parties. I shall be watching this with interest – think of the difference it could make to family life.

Cycling is particularly difficult for kids in the city as to get them somewhere safe to practise riding on their bikes requires transporting them and the bikes in a car. On Sunday we did what many parents in our area do, we packed three bikes onto a rack on the back of the car and drove to a safe local park where they could cycle. Its fine when you’re there, but what a hassle to do something that was so easy to do many years ago.

It’s so different now to when I grew up. As a child I played in the streets around the estate I lived on and was sent outside to play with the instruction to come in when it was dinnertime. There was never any idea that my parents would take us somewhere special to ride our bikes. It was unheard of. If there was a dangerous road to cross we cycled on the pavement – something that is frowned upon now.

The big difference is the sheer amount of traffic on the roads and the safety implications that brings. It is quite understandable that no parent would let their young child play or cycle near dangerous levels of fast moving traffic. So if there is a scheme that can help with providing an environment is which kids can easily play outside and on their bikes without danger, I think it’s time to support it.

Imagine the impact it could have if it were made a national scheme.

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