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Publish date

17 November 2020

What have the Romans ever done for us? The case for the sustainable car

Amid the chatter about sustainable transport, it’s easy to forget that cars are still quite useful – and if we want to make the most of our town centres, we need to rethink car parking, says Kate Jardine in a recent article for The Planner.

Among the most wide-ranging proposed changes to permitted development rights are the amendments to the Use Classes Order. Amalgamation of several previously separate permitted changes of use seeks to promote diversification in what is considered to be a stifled high street.

In the past decade, town centre businesses have been replaced by more lucrative residential developments (often with no parking). This increases housing supply, but also removes a large portion of consumers from the high street. Town centre dwellers are often commuters who may enjoy being ‘in the midst of it’ but most return home at the end of their day without offering the regular daytime business upon which the high street relies.  Night-time commerce may increase but inevitably limited to weekends.

The recent proposals are to revitalise town centres by providing more flexibility to premises with a wider spread of services to cater for both day and night-time economies.

However, the government is also offering a right for conversion of out-of-town offices to retail without the need to test demand in central business areas. Is the intention to move leisure back into towns and retail out? There is a small fly in this theory. For years, people have flocked to out-of-town providers, lured by free parking. It may seem a small issue, and technology may make paying for parking more convenient, but is that what the consumer wants? Ask anyone who doesn’t live inside a town centre about their gripes of “going into town”; one of the top moans will be parking: the lack of it, payment (apps aren’t fun for everyone), or the price.

What of public transport? Sustainability is a buzzword used to encourage public transport use but the reality is often far from the ideal. I am sympathetic to the desire to reduce the use of private vehicles, but is it really necessary when emissions rates outside of city centres are reducing as a result of vehicle efficiencies?

What town centres need is the ability for visitors to travel and park easily, day and night, to partake in the benefits that the “flexible” proposals will offer.

Perhaps car park design should be seen as the key to revitalising the high street? Many are unsafe, insecure places, particularly at night. Most are unwanted by town residents. But they are crucial to the decision-making of visitors and tourists. Car ownership is the reality of 21st century living. So, Hail the car park designers! And as for the title of this article – without the Romans, there’d be no roads of course!

This article first appeared in The Planner magazine

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