In a long, well-attended debate in Parliament yesterday a bike shop was heaped with praise (Geddes Cycles of Liverpool) and the MP for Cambridge tried to get across the message that shoppers in cars don’t spend as much on the High Street as shoppers on foot or on bicycle. The debate was in response to the Mary Portas review of the High Street and was secured by Marcus Jones, the Tory MP for Nuneaton.
Here’s a much contracted selection of speeches from the debate, the full text for which is on Hansard.
Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): My hon. Friend eloquently lays out the reasons why many town centres are falling on hard times. Has he noted Mary Portas’s remarks about the motor car? In market towns, and in rural areas, a car is no luxury, and it is essential for the vibrancy of those towns that there is adequate parking. What does he feel about that and, in particular, Portas’s remarks about a league table for car parks?
Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes an extremely sensible point. For far too long, we have not thought about the people who want to drive into our town centres and we have not considered the quality and availability of car parking. We have certainly not considered its cost, which I shall come to later. It is extremely prohibitive and is one reason why there is not a level playing field for our town centres in relation to their out-of-town competitors.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LibDem): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Is he aware of a study by Transport for London showing that the average retail spend per month is £373 for people who walk to their high street but only £226 for those who take their car? Similar studies show that those who cycle or take the bus or train spend more than those who drive.
Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes a reasonable suggestion, but there is a difference between travel in the London area and the situation in other regions of the UK. I can certainly say that far more people who shop in my local town centre in Nuneaton drive there than use local transport, so we have to be pragmatic.
Derek Twigg (Halton, Labour): A key factor in attracting people has been Halton borough council’s deliberate free car parking policy. It has also ensured that car parks were built. As other Members have said, it is nonsense to try to rule cars out of town centres; people want to use their cars and we should encourage them to do so, while of course improving public transport links to our town centres and high streets.
In Widnes, there has been some impact on local retailers and a number of the older businesses that were there when I was growing up are there no longer, although Geddes bicycle shop still provides the same excellent service for the community. However, other shops have been set up in the town centre to serve niche markets and that is an important factor.
Gary Streeter (South West Devon, Cons): I wish to mention car parking. I have been through 20 or 30 years of town planners, architects and academics telling us that we need to build sustainable communities with the car designed out of them. I am sorry, but it has not worked. Whether it is right or wrong, the people of this country have chosen the car. It is essential to provide space for car parking in the regeneration of our town centres and high streets, and for that parking to be either free, very reasonably priced, or free for a certain period. We are all lazy.
I also support “pop and shop” schemes whereby people can park outside a shop for a few moments even in a pedestrianised or semi-pedestrianised area, to pick up their dry cleaning, get cash out of the bank, buy the grandchildren an ice cream or whatever. I am afraid that the idea of designing out the car is now old-fashioned and has to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Car parking must be at the heart of what happens.
Dr Julian Huppert: I have been fascinated by the comments made about the need for more cars. There is lots of evidence that improving the walking environment increases retail footfall by 30 percent, as a study in Exeter has found. People who walk in shopping areas and cycle there or take the bus and train spend more money because they have access. We have to promote sustainable travel. I call on Ministers to look at how we can empower our local communities and give them the powers they need to ensure that we have vibrant centres.