Councils could kill off high street trade if they ramp up town centre parking charges, business organisations are warning.
In an effort to raise more cash, local authorities across the UK are proposing hefty increases in what they charge for parking on streets and in council-owned car parks.
However, the Forum of Private Business says raising the rates could put small firms out of business as shoppers are driven away from the high street and towards out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks, which enjoy ample free parking.
It also points out that the move will hit small traders at a time when they are facing the prospect of a downturn in trade next year due to the forthcoming VAT rise.
Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium says parking policy should be used to attract customers to the high street, and not as a revenue raiser.
Backing calls for councils to resist raising charges, it says high streets are the heart of local communities, providing jobs and essential services, and a vital part of the private sector growth the wider economy urgently needs. They should be supported not undermined, it adds.
The FPB highlights Burnley, Nottingham, Shrewsbury and Cornwall as examples of places where substantial parking-charge increases are being introduced or considered. In some cases, rises of 150% have been tabled by town halls.
The councils involved claim the hikes are necessary in order to plug shortfalls in their budgets due to widespread cuts in local government funding.
According to the FPB’s head of campaigns, Jane Bennett, putting up parking charges “could well prove to be a false economy as it will drive even more trade out of town centres, leading to more empty units, fewer visitors and lower amounts raised through business rates.
“If these councils are so desperate for money, perhaps they should concentrate on raising more revenue from the multi-national chain stores on their patches, rather than the small firms which are often struggling to survive.”
She added: “Around the UK, many forward-thinking town halls have deliberately kept their parking charges down – or even kept parking free altogether – in order to boost trade. They have been rewarded with thriving town centres, full of varied and unique shops.”
At the BRC, director of business and regulation, Tom Ironside, said: “Jacking-up parking charges looks like an easy option for cash-strapped councils but they should not be ignoring the wider impact on their communities and economies of the damage higher charges causes to town centres.”
The BRC believes parking and transport policy should be seen as a way to attract customers to the high street rather than as a means of traffic management. It should aim to reduce town centre congestion and parking demands without affecting footfall, and incentives to use public transport should be offered.