Scrap town centre parking charges, says business group

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is urging local authorities across the UK to scrap town centre car parking charges in order to help struggling retailers.

According to the FPB, the move would 'increase footfall in town centres, make them more attractive places for firms to do business, and reduce the number of vacant commercial premises'.

The request comes as councils put together their budget plans for 2013/14 - traditionally announced in the last week in February.

The business group described the move as ‘one of the most business-friendly concessions' councils could make for small retailers as they head into what, it says, will be 'another challenging trading year' for the sector.

The FPB's head of policy, Alex Jackman, said: "High streets across the country are under threat and have been for many years now from the likes of out-of-town shopping centres where parking is universally free. Then there's the internet and the rise of e-tailers taking an increasingly bigger slice of a shrinking consumer pie."

Although a number of councils have offered free parking over the Christmas period, the FPB said it needed to go further. It praised one Lancashire authority that offers free parking across all 45 of its borough car parks for the first two and a half hours.

Spiralling motoring costs are also deterring shoppers, whilst the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reiterated that tough economic conditions were continuing to squeeze consumer purses.

National town centre vacancy rates reached 11.3 per cent in October, the highest figure since the monitor began in July 2011, figures from the BRC reveal. Northern Ireland (20 per cent), Wales (15.1 per cent) and the North and Yorkshire (14.6 per cent) have suffered particularly badly with high vacancy rates.

The BRC recently launched its Twenty-First Century High Streets report outlining six key policy issues crucial to high street success, including:

  1. Creating a unique sense of place
  2. Creating and managing an attractive public space 
  3. Clear and strategic planning procedures
  4. Affordable and easy consumer accessibility
  5. Safety and security 
  6. Decreasing costs for operating and investing in town centres.

The BRC says that progress has been made against each of these points but that more action is needed to rejuvenate Britain's high streets.