The local business association that represents my high street – Green Lanes – and town centre – Palmers Green – have been very active recently, opposing an investment in Enfield of up to £30m in cycling improvements (the ‘mini-Holland’ scheme) because it MIGHT remove paid for, on-street parking on the high street itself. Without any obvious basis for the claims or any evidence to back up their opinions, it has launched an aggressive campaign using posters in shops and emails to anyone on their mailing list, and put up a single issue candidate to fight the forthcoming local election. From my perspective, it appears to be a campaign which has jumped to the extreme end of what might actually happen which and presents it as fact to a public who are unlikely to follow up the claims.
Costas Georgiou, chairman of the business association, is standing in the local elections as an independent candidate on this single issue. His claim is that the removal of parking spaces on Green Lanes equates to the removal of shoppers. Again, there is little evidence from him to support this so far – even I can dispute it, being heavily reliant on the shops in Green Lanes, but never having driven there. But, because the association is respected and run by local business people, it might be natural to assume that their fears are well founded. I don’t think they are.
There have already been attempts to set out a more balanced view. The Palmers Green Community website, for instance, has already posted a riposte to explain some of the finer points of the planning process, which is ongoing. Even from the Enfield Council website downloads about the mini-Holland bid, one can deduce that the proposals for Green Lanes within Palmers Green are a very small proportion of the overall package of improvements across a Borough that has high levels of pollution from vehicles and significantly high levels of obesity in children and adults alike. The posters imply that the Palmers Green element is a major part of the proposals; it isn’t.
Palmers Green town centre is not without its problems, but is lucky to be one of only a handful of local centres to have relatively low vacancy rates compared to the national average, a high proportion of independent traders, a station right in the town centre, and good bus routes in both east-west and north-south directions. It has good quality, relatively dense and varied housing all around it, giving thousands of people easy access to the town centre on foot, by bicycle and by two forms of public transport that operate regular services for around twenty hours a day. We have three good supermarkets, including one with its own ample free car park. There is an abundance of places to get a hot drink and a snack. Commuters criss-cross the town centre on their way to the station and bus stops having parked in the surrounding residential streets and walked through it. The Census between 2001 and 2011 demonstrates a growing number of households in wards around N13 – over 40% in many wards, and over 30% in most – have no car. None of these factors point to a desperate need for available on street parking for cars.
Aside from my casual observations, there is evidence to suggest that their claims are unreasonable. A report by the Association for Town Centre Management and the British Parking Association (2013) remarked that, “trying to find a conclusive link between town centre prosperity and car parking provision is extremely difficult”, largely because of the high number of variables involved in a town centre’s success. There is simply an insufficient evidence base to draw such a firm conclusion.
Further research suggest that town centres actually benefit from allowing greater access to people on foot and on bicycles, or that a balanced approach to traffic management and parking is preferable to boost the appeal of town centres. This includes a report written by Living Streets, and a wealth of research over many years by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (like this), the ATCM (like this) and the Design Council. Friends living in Palmers Green have also found easy and accessible evidence to support the idea that town centres benefit from reducing the impact of cars in town centres, and that increasing walking and cycling only has positive effects (here and here) the former of which also demonstrates that traders tend to over-estimate the reliance they place on customers arriving by car. Consider, for instance, the reductions in noise and fumes as cars slow down looking for spaces; the potential for conflicts and accidents and the simple fact that cars are rather ugly features that detract from good looking places.
It may well be that the proposals being proposed by Enfield Borough in their current form need some discussion and informed contributions, but for an influential group of people in the town centre to launch such a ham-fisted and unsophisticated campaign of opposition is unfair and unjust, and needs challenging.