AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says demonising motorists is not the right way to manage the economy or net zero ambitions
It looks like there will be another showdown between businesses and those who govern us over the latest plans to impose charges on those who park in the office or factory car park. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce is flexing its muscles ahead of the latest round of talks with MSPs on the workplace parking levy, though its tough-talking doesn’t amount to much more than a complaint over the additional cost burden on business.
Added cost at a time of other rising costs is certainly a key issue, and the SCC provides evidence that businesses in Nottingham – the so-called standard bearer for such a scheme – have laid off workers or relocated their operations in order to meet, or avoid, the payments.
But if the SCC really wants to knock the WPL into touch it will have to strengthen its argument with the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee by not letting itself get hijacked by the government’s agenda, such as its campaign for more cycle lanes and cycle parking. There are many reasons why cycling is a non-starter for many commuters or delivery services and the SCC needs to stop pandering to the cycling mafia.
Sledgehammer policies like parking levies and blocking off roads won’t stop drivers finding ways to get to their place of work, or delivery point. They just get more frustrated. Bus lanes already squeeze more traffic into single file queues that create more congestion and encourage motorists to seek out rat-runs. To avoid workplace parking levies, commuters will park in residential side streets, therefore creating a new problem.
I hear of tradesmen avoiding work in city centres as they are fed-up with parking restrictions that make it difficult to load and unload their vehicles close to where they are working. This is bad for them and for the local economy.
The SCC, and the other business lobby groups, should be standing up for the motorist and demanding a more holistic solution to reducing emissions and congestion, while keeping the economy’s engine running. This latest skirmish comes as yet another committee has been formed in Glasgow to find solutions to the decline of its ‘style mile’ – Sauchiehall St, Buchanan Street and Argyle St. Recent initiatives have been pathetic. Planting more trees might hide the graffiti and boarded up shops, but they won’t bring back more shoppers and commuters. And more parking charges will force more of them to stay away.
There has to be a greater focus on how to get more people in without penalising them for choosing to drive. It means better management of traffic flow and encouraging more motorists to switch to electric vehicles, not least through the provision of an efficient and plentiful charging network, or wider availability of shared vehicles. If local councils want to reduce the number of cars in town and city centres they have to provide more park and ride schemes.
Parking charges in our towns and cities should be phased during the day to encourage people to shop and attend to their commercial interests. At a time of hybrid working why do charges still apply to the whole of the day? Why not increase the availability of short term free parking at different times of day in different parts of the city to spread traffic around and boost local trade?
A little imagination would not go amiss.
Of course, one of the main reasons for preferring the WPL route is that it provides a new source of income for local authorities who claim to be struggling for cash. Forget all that net zero stuff, this is another case of money talking.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business