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Let's transform car parks into community hubs

As consumer spending dips, better use of car parks could bolster local authorities’ bottom lines, writes Chris Wortley

Chris Wortley
13 April 2023
Chris Wortley

 

Working, shopping and socialising trends have significantly changed following the pandemic – resulting in less footfall into towns and city centres. And, with the economic downturn biting, experts predict car park occupancy will fall to just 60% in 2023.

Stretched local authorities, which rely on car parking revenue to support their essential community services, can make better commercial use of these treasured assets 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We are seeing the growth of car parks as ‘community hubs’, which play an invaluable role in building better infrastructure for the nation’s growing fleet of electric vehicles.

The constant talk of high inflation, fluctuating energy prices, low growth and lack of business investment means we’re all preparing for a difficult 12 months ahead.

And while we batten down the hatches and consider how we can cut our spending, local authorities are faced with the enormous task of maintaining essential services and supporting local taxpayers, with tightened budgets and less resource. Finding extra income that can be redirected to critically under-funded areas, will be top of the priority list for many council leaders, and that’s where reimagining the use of car parks comes in.

According to the British Parking Association (BPA) there are approximately 17,000 local authority run car parks in the UK. The majority only tend to charge between the hours of 8am to 6pm and due to the growth of hybrid working and online shopping, parking numbers are dwindling – averaging around 80% occupancy during peak times in 2022, with experts estimating that will fall to 60% in 2023.

Whilst some councils will be resigned to their losses, others are blazing a trail – exploring how this real estate can be better commercialised to their advantage.

An electric future

The electric vehicles market is experiencing enormous growth – with the volume of cars on UK roads expected to hit 60% in 2030, up from 14% in 2022. On paper, this figure is inspiring – going a long way towards supporting the government’s net zero targets. But in reality, and as an electric vehicle (EV) driver myself, the need for better charging infrastructure has never been more
evident.

Car parks provide an ideal solution for helping meet this growing demand, and while you may already see two or three EV chargepoints at council-run locations, there is a great deal more that can be done – particularly when recent reports highlight that there are only 36,752 EV parking ports in existence, with a considerable number of them in out-of-town locations.

Dual efficiencies

Consider the number of people who rent a property, live in a house with no drive, or a flat with limited outside space. When it comes to charging their vehicle, it is unlikely that adding an EV chargepoint to the front of their home is an option. So, being able to park up and charge in a council-run car park, which is only minutes away, secure, well-lit, and easy-to-use, makes complete sense. This is where councils can secure a dual income from that customer – from a slight mark-up on the electricity cost and for charging a parking fee – whatever the time of day.

Plus, with car parking infrastructure already in place at these sites, the investment costs to introduce the chargepoints and integrate the payment technology should be minimal. We’re seeing a definite trend with customers moving away from parking hardware, which can be pricey. Instead, they’re exploring simple and cost-effective solutions for payments, such as QR code technology, which is instant, doesn’t require expensive app development and can be accessed morning, noon and night.

Another option is around car park use for office areas, where councils could offer free or discounted electricity to employees or local taxpayers, while charging visitors to the borough full price. The software we can install allows for myriad possibilities that will tap into under-utilised space allow councils to generate income from it.

In the mid to long-term we see the future of car parks as potential community hubs, also acting as collection and drop-off points for parcels, for instance. This would transform areas that otherwise might be used for just a few hours per day, into 24/7 sites that can meet needs both now and in years to come.

As we continue to work with local authority customers across the UK, our approach is not to sell products, but to help them solve problems. Well-executed, the concept of community hubs could reinvigorate neglected spaces and truly bring the car park back to life, while delivering additional revenue streams.

Chris Wortley is managing director of the Metric Group. He has significant experience of the parking, retail and commercial sectors having undertaken senior roles both as a practitioner and a consultant to airports, parking management companies and local authorities.
www.metricgroup.co.uk

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