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Hollowed Out Centres? Portas And Parking Charges

Simon Binns on Salford's decision to exploit parking charges and the out of town shopping debate

Written by . Published on December 14th 2011.

Hollowed Out Centres? Portas And Parking Charges

AN INTERESTING week in the ongoing debate regarding parking charges, city centres, town centres and out of town shopping.

As the row over Manchester’s own charging structure rumbles on, Salford Council is now looking at bringing in the same measures around Trinity Way and Chapel Street, including Sunday charging, to stop the area becoming an unofficial car park for Manchester city centre.

'Pat Karney wants ‘parity’ between the shopping centres and the high street, but his argument isn’t helped by his own administration, who have hiked parking charges up and handed their opponents a gimme.'

Salford thinks the seven-day charging, along with ninety-four new pay and display bays, will rake in £170,000 a year.

But the rest of Salford’s rationale is almost as laughable as Manchester’s ‘congestion’ argument, which is slowly being bactracked through mumbled references to government cuts and revenue.

Salford Council says it is bringing in charges to help motorists who might be ‘confused’ over Manchester’s charging system – as well as ‘maximising revenue’, of course. How thoughtful of them. Most motorists would argue that coming back to a parking bay that used to be free to find a big yellow ticket hanging off your windscreen wiper is more confusing than not being charged.

The Salford Conservative group has criticised the plans, saying it will discourage businesses from locating in and around Chapel Street at a time when millions is being spent regenerating the area, trying to make it a place where people should want to live and work.

Then Mary Portas – the self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’ – weighed into the debate with her government-commissioned report into what could be done to save town centres. Free parking was one suggestion, as were a stronger role for markets including a National Market Day – something Manchester has already done with its Christmas and seasonal markets.

Portas talked about out of town shopping centres, and the need for stronger ‘town centre first’ planning policies – something the last Labour government actually brought in, but not until a Trafford Centre-sized horse had bolted and done a steaming pat all over every town within a 20 mile radius.

Inside_The_Trafford_CentreThe Trafford Centre

She thinks – and Manchester City Council does too – that out of town shopping centres should either be taxed on or made to charge for car parking. But for the same reason they will snigger at the tardy reaction to town planning, developers like Peel have the right to ask the government why on Earth they should. They will point to footfall, job creation and the fact that often their shops trade far better than their equivalents on the high street.

It’s not just the shopping centres you have to convince – it’s the traders within. John Lewis operates at the Trafford Centre, but not in Manchester. Why?

Pat Karney wants "parity" between the shopping centres and the high street, but his argument isn’t helped by his own administration, who have hiked parking charges up and handed their opponents a gimme.

He wants a "level playing field". An admirable notion, but not one that holds any water with big retailers. They don’t want fair; they want profits, and they’ll set up shop wherever they may find them.

It was the multiples who were in the firing line before the debate moved on to the enormous palaces that housed them on the edge of a motorway somewhere. They were killing high streets; the enemy. So a lot of them left, feeling little compulsion for loyalty.

Lots of them have simply migrated large parts of their business online and just don’t need the number of physical shop units they used to.

What the government will do with Portas’ report, if anything, is questionable. And it’s hard to rally against the likes of Tesco when cuts from Whitehall are forcing local authorities to sell off any bits of spare land they can find to supermarket operators, to put some cash in the coffers.

Back in October, we ran a story about Altrincham, and how it was looking to become a haven for ‘interesting and independent businesses’ after being deserted by the chains. How towns like Altrincham achieve that will depend on many things – rents, rates, and the ambitions of would-be-shopkeepers.

There is a difficult tension within Manchester though. For all the criticism over the parking charges, the Arndale Centre is set to break its yearly footfall record of 39 million in 2011 and the Christmas markets are booming. The Apple store in Manchester city centre turned over £20m last year, according to Cofidential's retail sources, based on two killer products that people clamoured to buy.

Look around you. The city has not been deserted, on the face of it, but that does not help the businesses who have felt the pinch of the new parking charges.

Karney spoke of the success of the seasonal stalls around Manchester as a pointer to how much we love markets. But do we really, or do we just get excited by the season of goodwill, warm wine on a cold December day and make concessions for overpriced sausages, before climbing in our cars and heading for the warmth of a covered all-in-one shopping mall for the rest of the year?

When it comes to our town centres, it’s use them or lose them, and no amount of reports will get past that fact. But when people need to pay more to park in them, they become that much harder to sell.

And while the Portas report is clearly more relevant to smaller centres such as Rochdale, Royton and Reddish than to the city centre, it may be only a matter of time before downtown Manchester also feels the pinch.

Even with Mary Portas at the helm.

Sunny Manchester 040

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Coffee ShopDecember 14th 2011.

How many gyms (in the high street) do we need?

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

I can only speak personally and whilst I'm not keen on out of town centres, I have chosen them a few times lately over the city centre.
The Xmas markets are jolly but overpriced, contrived and me-too and Cllr Karney would be unwise to think that their popularity is infinite.

The Portas report is a persuasive argument that the market, left to itself, can destroy as much as it creates and needs to be controlled by imaginative planning and legislation that allows the social benefits of diverse town centres not to be stifled by short term profit motives of the multiples.

Places like Rochdale are I'm afraid, stuffed, yet 4 miles away Bury is doing OK with a mixture of a vibrant, "real" market and a shiny new development.

What are they doing right that Rochdale isn't? Probably down to one of the most glaring examples of piss-poor set of local politicians who would cheerfully sell their granny's false teeth to hang on to a vote. See for example the disaster of Drake Street tram stop. £2m thrown down the drain.

Eddy RheadDecember 14th 2011.

John Lewis have long made clear a desire to open a store in manchester city centre but have never been able to find a property that meets their requirements. Its not through lack of want that they havent opened a store - Dumplington Precinct just offered a unit that met their requirements. Perhaps when Debenhams go tits up they will get their chance?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Simon BinnsDecember 14th 2011.

John Lewis don't want to pay rent. The Trafford Centre unit trades so well there's no burning need for them to be in Manchester.

If they wanted it that badly, they'd have found somewhere by now. They've had enough options put in front of them.

the Whalley RangerDecember 14th 2011.

It's like with the charges for university tuition: only those who offer quality and a reputation will survive.

AnonymousDecember 19th 2011.

You see, these temporary councillors who need to achieve targets to get their fat wages and pensions come up with these schemes. They, just like politicians, think of the next year and not several years ahead.

These useless morons are the ones responsible for the decline in standards.

Just look at the architecture and general atmosphere in Manchester and compare that to the likes of Leeds and Liverpool. The common denominator are a thick bunch of useless councillors and likely backhanders.

Parking charges on Sundays and to 8pm are simply outrageous - but those idiots who passed the motion do not care two hoots. Why should they when they get undeserved wages and pensions?

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