Parking crackdown looming in North Wales with higher prices and far fewer spaces
Making parking more difficult is a crucial lever if motorists are to ditch their cars for public transport
Among the lofty ambitions outlined in the 2021 Wales Transport Strategy was a commitment to introduce default 20mph speed limits. With that box ticked, the Welsh Government can now focus on even more challenging initiatives.
Many were conceived with decarbonisation in mind, and if implemented will invariably be unpopular with motorists. Road tolls, congestion charging, workplace levies…the list goes on. If Wales is to meet its ambitious carbon zero target by 2050, tough decisions are needed: scrapping the third Menai crossing and Deeside’s Red Route bypass was never going to be universally popular.
Among potential decarbonisation targets is one that has largely gone under the radar in Wales. For everyone to switch to public transport, or invest in e-bikes, car parking must be placed in the line of fire.
If shiny new buses, trams and trains are the carrot, getting rid of car parks will be the stick. Road travel is falling down the transport hierarchy – and all car journeys start and end with parking. Nothing has been decided but reducing reliance on parking is on the agenda. In its National Transport Delivery Plan 2022-27, the Welsh Government pledged parking policies to “drive modal shift to public transport and active travel”.
The Commission is looking at three ways this can be addressed: new housing developments, tourist areas, and town and city centres. These are outlined below.
New housing developments
Decarbonisation will require new housing to be “in the right places”, according to the Local Government Association (LGA). In practical terms, this means being in “accessible and central locations” with alternative transport provisions built-in. It sounds a little like the 15-minute city concept, a simple but controversial idea that has so far served to highlight the difficulties of implementing any scheme that restricts people’s “rights”, especially when it comes to driving.
To encourage people onto buses and trains, parking spaces in new housing developments will need to be limited. Or made more expensive: in a “Decarbonising Transport” paper, the LGA argued there is “no such thing as free parking” – that the cost of parking is bundled into home ownership through bigger plots and higher property prices. Where spaces are bought separately, or leased (unbundling), evidence suggests that parking take-up is lower.
Pavement parking would also need to be tackled, possibly through strictly enforced bans. Exceptions would be made for certain groups, such as Blue Badge holders.
Currently, however, there is little coordination between local councils and the Welsh Government over such issues. Planning decisions at local level often “undermine national policy”, said the NWTC. By agreeing free car parking spaces with new developments, this only “adds to an entrenched car dependence”.
A NWTC progress report argued for greater integration of regional land use planning. “This may be necessary to ensure we do not further build-in car dependence into new developments,” it said. “As part of this, we will consider whether developments can be better focused on places with good transport links, how to offer better sustainable transport options for all new developments, and how local services, accessible by walking or cycling, can be provided.”
Of the top 20 free and paid-for visitor attractions in Wales in 2019, half were in North Wales. Many of these are in rural areas, creating local congestion and leading to illegal parking.
In the short-term, there is a blueprint solution in place already. The Sherpa’r Wyddfa bus service, shortlisted in this year’s UK Transport Awards, has helped ease congestion on north Eryri’s roads while contributing towards the national park’s sustainability goals.
Ironically, this scheme saw more Tarmac being laid to create new parking spaces. And therein lies one conundrum: to cut road mileage, additional park-and-ride facilities may be needed.
Moreover, Sherpa’r Wyddfa is also a “last mile” solution which, in the longer-term, may not be sustainable. Ideally, the Commission wants park-and-rides to be located at public transport hubs close to people’s homes, rather than at final destination sites such as tourism attractions: the aim is short car trips and long public transport journeys, not the other way round. Better still, no car travel at all.
Sorting out tourism’s emissions may mean rolling back the years. Mass tourism in North Wales was built on the railway, not least the fashionable 19th century resorts that sprang up on the North Wales coast. In 1947, Penychain halt was upgraded to a railway station to service Butlin’s Pwllheli holiday camp: for almost two decades, most holidaymakers arrived there either by train or coach. It’s still possible to reach the park (now Haven Hafan y Môr) by rail, but the journey is arduous: from Liverpool it’s six hours.
Moreover, trains and buses will struggle to service holidaymakers with family tents, boats and jetskis. Caravans, motorhomes and campervans are a key component of the sector and, in North Wales, static caravans are a prominent offer. Even heavily upgraded, public transport will struggle to provide comprehensive solutions. The NWTC suggests seasonal shuttle buses from town centres or rail stations should be put in place.
In future, public transport will (or should) be a key consideration with new tourism attractions. The NWTC said: “New attractions should be planned and built that facilitate travel by sustainable means. Options may include, for example, shuttle buses, park-and-ride services, and more comprehensive active travel networks, and cycle or e-cycle hire.”
Town and city centres
To encourage shopping, motorists often benefit from free or (relatively) low-priced car parking at destinations such as retail parks. Trade is sucked from town centres where public transport hubs are traditionally located. To counter this, cheap parking is provided in towns to attract shoppers back, contributing to what the NWTC calls a “race to the bottom”.
Park-and-ride schemes are seen as a “last mile” solution but these will only ever properly succeed if parking capacity is reduced, and parking prices hiked, in towns and retail parks, said the LGA. At the same time, road space should be reallocated from cars to buses, cyclists and pedestrians. Otherwise, said the LGA, park-and-rides provide “additional options but do little to impact on the demand for car use”. In fact, they attract some people who might otherwise have used a train, bus or bike for their whole journey.
Cutting commuter traffic is another target for decarbonisation. There are several possible options, including the use of Section 106 agreements that require employers to restrict parking provision and encourage car clubs. Obligations could even be placed on companies to improve active travel and public transport links.
Car-sharing platforms are another option, so are parking cash-out schemes: these reward employees who don’t bring their car to work. Workplace parking levies are also being examined by the North Wales Transport Commission, though Cardiff has no current plans to roll these out.
Ministers are looking to give local authorities new civil enforcement powers to tackle pavement parking, seen as creating difficulties for disabled people and children. This will not be a blanket ban but will instead target hotspots like schools.
On-street and pavement parking is an area under scrutiny by Britain’s decarbonisation planners. Tackling this is seen as essential but local businesses argue that convenient and, ideally, free parking, is crucial. Despite this, the WGA argues that on-street parking should be priced higher than off-street parking. “Low on-street parking fees encourage traffic to cruise, looking for spaces and creating additional emissions,” it said.
In its interim report, published this summer, the NWTC introduced a cautionary note for any parking clampdown in town centres and retail parks. Adopting a North Wales-only approach could be counter-productive. The Commission said: “Due to North Wales’ unique position on the border with England and the location of prominent population centres nearby, such as Chester, Liverpool, and Manchester, any parking policy interventions should not put towns and cities in the region at a disadvantage to neighbouring areas.”
Paying for it all
Driving a shift from cars to active travel and public transport relies on convenient, affordable and easily accessible networks. In many areas of North Wales, these remain a distant pipedream.
Urban areas are better served but in rural areas, cycle, bus and rail routes are sparse or non-existent. Less than a third of people in North Wales are within walking distance of an hourly public transport service after 7pm. Yet the Welsh Government has cut bus grants and the North Wales Metro concept is moving forward only at glacial pace.