For a long time it felt like my job on the council was explaining the council’s parking policy to business. I should add that my job on the council has never involved any responsibility for parking whatsoever (long may that continue) but it is inevitable when talking to businesses that they will raise the impact of parking on their business: it’s impossible to have the council’s economic development role without a good understanding of the dynamics of the council’s parking.

So it is a refreshing change, if not outright relief, to be able to talk about the council’s six-month pilot of reduced parking fees in Tooting. The scheme will see half price (well, £1.10 and not £2.30 per hour) parking in seven roads near Tooting Broadway. The roads currently have spare capacity and the town centre is one that we know does have shoppers travelling significant distances to visit.

I’ve always been fairly agnostic about the impact of parking on business. If you look at places like Westfield, or even Southside, it’s clear that people will pay to park in the right destination and in some cases pay a lot. The centres seem to use parking charges as a way of managing demand (encouraging shopping on quieter days, for example) than increasing demand.

There is always a steady flow of research on the impact of parking policy (the most recent I’ve seen was the British Parking Association’s Re-think! Parking on the High Street (PDF). Generally they have tended to conclude parking does not make that much difference in most cases (although it’s probably the edge cases in which we are interested). Sadly, however, the value of their insight to Wandsworth is limited by the comparative rarity of town centres reliant on on-street parking in residential roads rather than large off-street private or public car-parks.

It’s these residential parking areas in Tooting that are the focus of the council’s latest trial of reduced parking fees. What remains to be seen is what effect this will have on shoppers’ habits. Will more people come overall, or will it merely cause a change in their choice of transport or parking spot?

Not Wandsworth, for a change

After a few days of Jubilee-related events I found myself bloated and lethargic: the consequence of a little too much cake, ice cream and alcohol.

Battersea Park: with facilities for the 90,000
My weekend managed a degree of diversity. Saturday was spent in Kent, at a fair organised in my wife’s home village. It was the very image of what I imagined a village fête to be including morris dancers and a Women’s Institute tea-room.

On Sunday, along with tens of thousands of others, I braved the chill and rain to see the jubilee flotilla from Battersea Park. I was surprised, and rather proud to be British, to see the park absolutely heaving with people and portaloos despite the weather. I have no idea how many people were put off, but when we were looking for a place in front of one of the big screens to set-up a picnic it didn’t look like many had stayed at home.

Lavender Gardens' penultimate sing-a-long
Finally, on Monday, I popped along to the Elspeth Road and Lavender Gardens street party. A superb event that encompassed the whole community. The organisers deserve huge congratulations for all their work; it certainly paid off.

And all the car owners deserve credit for their parking.

Like any job, being a councillor changes the way you look at things. And even with the jubilee I couldn’t help noticing the parking.

In that small Kentish village cars were absent. No-one parked in the village square, or the village hall car park, or on any of the roads used for the celebrations.

Not that big a deal, perhaps. While those spaces are usually full a nearby field was turned over to parking and only added a few minutes inconvenience to residents.

In Lavender Gardens, though, no such alternative was available. Residents had to take their luck finding a space elsewhere. And this in an area where parking has a premium, created by the cost of a parking permit and charge for a parking bay suspension. But compliance was near total. Just two cars acted as blemishes on the otherwise pedestrian-only southern half of Lavender Gardens.

Like I said, being a councillor changes the way you look at things, my correspondence often sees parking elevated to the status of human right, the space immediately outside a house becomes consecrated ground being plundered by infidel neighbours parking their cars there.

So having experienced fourteen years of parking rights extremism it was refreshing to see such widescale voluntary compliance. In Lavender Gardens, at least, I know Her Majesty is truly valued.