Bosworth MP David Tredinnick's Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Private Member’s Bill, aimed at boosting local high street shopping, passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons today.
The Bosworth MP’s Bill would enable local councils to reduce parking charges without the need to give 21 days’ notice. The proposed changes will also make it harder for local authorities to increase fees by requiring councils to consult with interested parties and stakeholders first.
David Tredinnick said, “The Bill will be very helpful to local authorities, particularly at Christmas time when councils might want to reduce, or waive altogether, some on-street and off-street parking charges.
“The reform will allow local authorities to react more quickly to market changes and provide greater flexibility.
“It also puts local authorities on an even footing with the private sector by allowing councils at short notice to provide free or discounted parking to support town centre events.
“In the run-up to Christmas for instance, councils may want to allow a market to take place at short notice and would be able to stimulate that market by reducing charges or waiving them altogether. This Bill aims to give councils more powers to support their local high streets and shopping areas.”
Extracts from the debate are copied below:
Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is my good fortune to be able to introduce my Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill, which I understand has the backing of not only the Government but Santa Claus. I had a note down my chimney last night, and I shall explain why. The Bill will be very helpful to local authorities, particularly at Christmas time, when cities and towns are full of shoppers and councils might want to reduce, or waive altogether, some on-street and off-street parking charges.
The Bill makes provision for reductions in charges without the need for the current requirement of 21 days’ notice. Local authorities will in future, under clause 2, need to consult if they want to increase their charges.
The Bill has only two clauses, and I must tell colleagues that I fended off several organisations that wanted to add a whole range of further clauses. However, this is the second Bill on a Friday and I am under no illusions about my needing the support of the Chamber for the Bill to progress.
The Bill amends the existing powers of the Secretary of State at sections 35C and 46A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to make regulations providing for the procedure to be followed by local authorities giving notice to vary charges at both off-street and on-street parking places. That allows for new regulations to be made that revise the existing regulations to reduce the burden on local authorities that are seeking to lower their charges. In addition, the Bill allows for a new power that will mean that local authorities will need to consult if they want to increase their parking charges under an existing traffic order. I hope that answers my colleagues’ questions.
Town centres such as that of Hinckley, the vibrant town in Leicestershire that I represent, are at the heart of our local communities. Parking has the potential to enhance the economic vitality of town centres such as Hinckley’s.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s Bill. Does he agree that it will make it much easier for councils to reduce car parking charges? That can only be a good thing not just for local businesses, but for local residents. It will encourage us all to shop locally and support our town centres.
I was astonished when I looked into this matter that that was not already in a council’s portfolio of options. That is why I have brought the Bill to the House. I was absolutely amazed. The reform will allow local authorities to react more quickly to market changes and allow greater flexibility if they are looking to put in place reduced parking charges or even free parking. It also puts local authorities on an even footing with the private sector—this is important—by allowing local authorities at short notice to provide free or discounted parking to support town centre events.
That is the Santa Claus aspect. In the run-up to Christmas, councils may want to allow a market to take place at short notice and could stimulate that market by reducing charges or waiving them altogether. Requiring 21 days’ notice, with the notice to be published in the local newspaper and posted at appropriate places on the street, is bureaucratic and totally unnecessary. It is important that councils should engage their local communities when they are raising charges, to help ensure that the business community is aware of any proposals and to help it make informed comment about them. The Bill will reinforce what should be good practice.
Standing here on behalf of my constituency, which includes the big town of Hinckley on the A5, I can say with some pride that Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council already consults the Town Centre Partnership on changes to charging ahead of publishing any notice of variation in the local media. It also has a joint car-parking working group with the Business Improvement District and the Town Centre Partnership to consider issues as they arise. If I had intervened more fully in last Wednesday’s debate, I might have said that that would be an appropriate way forward for Stevenage; perhaps Stevenage can talk to Hinckley about the way Hinckley does things. I am pleased to put on the record that example of best practice.
I am also pleased to report that, in the past, Hinckley has offered free parking at Christmas. My local council assures me that the Bill would allow it to temporarily reduce charges, meaning that it could still generate some revenue while supporting town centre businesses. There is a good relationship between the council and the business community in Hinckley, but the Bill will add flexibility, which is why it is so important. It will allow Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to consider a new range of parking incentives, which is very much to be welcomed.
Let me give a couple of examples. It would allow the council to develop temporary incentives for under-utilised car parks, to increase awareness of those parking assets. I pressed the chief executive of the council for more examples locally, and it could—people in my area might be interested to learn that these are not council policy but options that might be put before it—temporarily introduce a 50p charge for all-day parking on long-stays on Saturdays in the run-up to Christmas. It could introduce a 50p all-day charge on the Trinity Vicarage car park, which the council has been trying to get greater use of, until usage increases, and the charge could then be removed. Finally—this is interesting—I am told that councillors might be invited to consider a charge of 50p for three hours on all short-stays in January and February, which are generally quieter months; obviously, that is after Christmas, and there is not much going on.
Hinckley—the town I have had the honour to represent for a long time—has been shortlisted in the large market category of the Great British High Street competition. Let me put that in context. Unusually for a town of its size—it has a population of 30,000—it is signposted pretty much from the moment people leave London, and the signposts are there once people get just outside the M25. That is because Hinckley is a very important town on Watling Street—the Roman road going to the north-west—or what is now the A5. It has a great history, going back to the making of silk stockings; it was one of two towns in England that produced silk stockings, Wokingham being the other. It has a very proud history of hosiery and knitwear production. It actually has a catchment area of half a million people within a 15-minute drive. I checked the numbers today: Hinckley has over 400 businesses, of which nearly 300 are independent, and the vacancy rate is less than 5%. That is a great thing for the town of Hinckley.
As we are talking about markets, it is worth mentioning that the charter market in Hinckley was 700 years old in 2011, and it is open for business three days a week. Not only that, but we have fantastic town centre festivals, including the Soap Box Derby, which is great fun; St George’s Day; and the largest town centre classic motor show in the midlands. We have also had a rally in the middle of the town; I do not know how the council got permission for that, but it did, and well done.
Parking is crucial to the success of the events, which are attended not only by thousands of local people, but by visitors from further afield, leading to—I will use the jargon—an increased spiking of 1,000% in footfall. That means a whole lot of new people coming into the town and wanting to park, so making parking easier is much better for business. The flexibilities that the Bill would introduce would go a long way to enhancing the event experience in town, and parking is, of course, often the visitor’s first experience and impression.
As I have said, I understand that the Government support the Bill’s purpose. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, may wish to say a little more about the points that I have raised. I do not need to be psychic—he is on the Front Bench—to imagine that that will be the case. Crucially, the Bill also has the support of Santa Claus, so I commend it to the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), who is my constituency neighbour, on securing his place in the ballot for private Members’ Bills and on his excellent speech. The Bill that he has introduced to the House is important legislation. I believe it offers a reform that will have a real, lasting and very positive impact on many of our town centres.
I was delighted to hear about my hon. Friend’s own town of Hinckley. I was also delighted to hear that it is in the final of the Great British High Street awards, and I wish it well in its endeavours. I have quite close links with Hinckley. In the late 1970s, when I was very small, my parents ran two record shops. One was in Nuneaton, which is now my constituency. As a very young infant, I spent time in a pram at the back of that shop, so I know my constituency extremely well. As a youngster, I also used to spend time in our shop in neighbouring Hinckley, so I also know my hon. Friend’s constituency extremely well.
I welcome the improvements that the Conservative council in Hinckley has made in recent years. It is good to see how it is working with the local business community. In the summer, I was absolutely delighted to go along to speak to the Hinckley chamber of trade. I met some excellent and very well-informed business people, who seem to have an excellent rapport with their local authority.
I cannot let this moment pass without saying that, although the towns and villages in my constituency have not entered the awards, they have excellent town and village centres. Does the Minister agree that we should all support all our town and village centres to thrive and prosper, and to play their important part in supporting local communities?
My hon. Friend makes a timely intervention because today is what is now called “Black Friday”, when many people take to high streets, town centres and out-of-town shopping centres or go on the internet. At a time when we are all starting to think about Christmas shopping—some of us have planned more than others in that regard—and when we are spending significant amounts of money, people should think about shopping in their local high streets and town centres when they can. People often complain when high street shops close because there has not been enough demand to keep them going, but at the same time they often buy things on the internet from a range of retailers, so I encourage people at this time of year to use their local high street or town centre. I suspect that parking is an issue with which most Members of this House are very familiar. Both as a constituency MP and as a Minister, I find that my postbag is kept very busy by this important issue. Indeed, many of my hon. Friends write to me about it regularly on behalf of their constituents. I suspect that even after this important Bill has gone through the House, as I hope it will, this will remain a subject for which the Royal Mail is very grateful, such is the general public’s view of excessive parking charges.
High streets and town centres continue to play an essential role in the lives of our communities, and parking plays a major role as the gateway to our town centres. That was recognised by the Conservative-led coalition Government in a number of reforms of parking facilities owned by local authorities. They made it mandatory for local authorities to provide 10-minute grace periods for all on-street parking bays and off-street car parks. That gives town centre shoppers far greater flexibility, and allows them to complete their shopping and other business in the town centre without having to worry that they are going to overrun by a few minutes on the parking meter.
The previous Government were also concerned by the use of closed circuit television cars, which were mentioned by the Opposition spokesman, whom I welcome to his place. In many cases, those are being used as nothing more than a revenue-generating tool. That is why, in addition to the grace period, the previous Government banned the sending of parking tickets through the post by local authorities, so individuals now have a far greater degree of certainty. If, when they get back to their car, they unfortunately have a ticket, they know that the ticket is there and has to be dealt with, rather than not knowing about it on the day and ending up with a ticket through the post weeks later, when they cannot recall whether they were at that particular location, and so whether they can challenge the ticket. That was an extremely important move forward.
We are also looking at further reforms to the local government transparency code, following a recent consultation. We intend to amend the code so that motorists can see at first hand a complete breakdown of the parking charges that their councils impose and how much they raise. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) mentioned that we must be careful that our car parks are not used simply as revenue generators or cash cows, because although it is important that local authorities are able to pay for the provision and maintenance of council car parks, it is also extremely important to recognise that car parks are there for the pure and simple reason that they allow people who want to come into a town to use the shops, restaurants and bars. We should never forget that.
The Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth continues in that vein, recognising councils’ need for flexibility, but also the need to involve local communities in the decision-making process. The involvement of local communities in these decisions is extremely important. As has been said, the local community has a backstop, when it comes to any decision that a local authority makes, as it can kick that particular administration out at an election. However, given how councils are often made up and how often elections occur, that is not always that easy, and it can take some time. This issue is so important to the vitality of high streets and town centres, many of which create the jobs in our constituencies, so it is extremely important that local people and local businesses are consulted before any changes are made that could have a detrimental effect.
This topic affects anybody who drives into a town centre or a car park owned by a council. Does the Minister agree that the Bill would enable those who use those services to make their voice heard, through the consultation, directly by the council? That can only be a good thing for community engagement and democracy.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. A question often asked, in this House and in the country, is how we can engage our communities more, to get them to get out and vote. The more a local authority engages, the more it will encourage people to do that. The good thing about the Bill is that where a council is doing the right thing for a local area by dropping parking charges to welcome businesses on to their high street or into their town centre, and to facilitate things for them, there will be no obligation on them to go through a lengthy consultation. They will need to consult when they wish to increase car parking charges—a change that could well be against the will of local people.
We are not saying that this is a one-size-fits-all situation. We are saying the Bill will make it quicker and easier for local authorities to do the right thing where they think it necessary.
The Bill offers a real opportunity for councils to take a far more flexible approach to supporting their high streets, for example by responding to the opportunity of town centre festivals. We are coming up to Christmas; many councils reduce car parking charges over the festive season, and the Bill will facilitate that by removing bureaucracy.
This is a real opportunity. The Bill will allow councils, when there are festivals, to use the celebrations to demonstrate how good our town centres and high streets are. People lead busy lives and they do not necessarily pop to the high street or the town centre to do their shopping. They might do their shopping and even banking—through apps and so on—on the internet. We often find that because people do not have a reason to go to a high street or town centre, they forget to frequent them. That is a real pity. Any festival, or anything else, that can bring them back into town, make them think, “This is somewhere I should visit and do a lot of my shopping”, and refresh their memory is a good thing.
One thing I learned from my involvement in the Great British High Street competition when I was the Minister with responsibility for high streets last year was that people up and down the country had a passion for their high streets. When I was chairman of the all-party group for town centres, I led a Backbench Business debate in this Chamber. I think that was when you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, which I later had the great pleasure to serve on under your chairmanship. If I recall correctly, about 70 right hon. and hon. Members attended that debate, which filled a full six hours. It just showed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth did in introducing the Bill, what passion there is for our high streets and town centres. If a place can get its high street and town centre right, it can create an experience that visitors will not get on the internet or in an out-of-town shopping park, and that is why we should do everything we can, as legislators, to facilitate the use of our town centres and put them on a long-term, sustainable basis.
The Bill offers flexibility on car parking charges, but as has been discussed by hon. Members, there is concern about local authorities deciding to raise charges without consulting businesses, as does happen. The Government think it fit and proper, therefore, that where councils intend to put them up, they are responsive to local concerns and should have to consult local people before seeking to do so.
The Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, which provides for consultation if local authorities want to raise the charges on an existing traffic order, is a sensible reform that strikes a balance between the need of local authorities to set fair car parking charges and the need to consider the views of local communities. I appreciate the points made and thank him for introducing this important Bill. The Government support its intentions, not just because it delivers on one of their objectives, but because it encourages a model of more effective support for our great British high streets and town centres. As we can see in the Chamber, such is the enthusiasm for our high streets among Members from across the country that we should think carefully before doing anything that might cause harm or detriment to them; we should applaud councils that want to reduce charges and welcome more people into their area, and enable them to do so. This matters to local people, and it should matter to the House.
Whenever I have got to my feet in this House over the years, I have always tried to keep in the back of my mind that our job as Members of Parliament is to improve the quality of life of the people we represent. Having listened to today’s debate, I can say in all honesty that this modest two-clause Bill will improve the quality of life in every city and town in this country. I am most grateful for the Government’s support.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).