UK councils ‘holding public spaces hostage’ with cheap parking

Councils have been accused of allowing public spaces to be “held hostage” by motorists after the huge difference in cost between parking charges and the cost of suspending parking was revealed.

The latest figures, published by the climate charity Possible, lay bare the significant cost increase between a parking permit, used for vehicles such as cars and vans, and the cost of parking bay suspensions to use the space for other purposes.

It is 115 times more expensive to suspend a parking bay in the UK, with an average weekly cost of £158.06, than to pay for a parking permit, which has an average weekly cost of £1.38, the data showed.

Parking bay suspensions can be used for a variety of reasons, including for skips and moving properties, but also have been used as community spaces for seating, gardens or cycle parking.

Possible’s head of car-free cities, Hirra Khan Adeogun, accused local authorities of allowing private cars to dominate public spaces and called for people to be prioritised over private vehicle use.

“We’re letting private cars hold our public space hostage,” she said. “The fact that some cities aren’t even charging for parking just goes to show how local politicians are missing opportunities to break cities free from car dominance.”

According to a study by the pro-motoring thinktank the RAC Foundation, cars remain parked and unused for an average of 23 hours a day, with the average car or van in England driven just 4% of the time, a figure that has barely changed over the past 25 years.

Khan Adeogun added: “Most of the time private cars are going completely unused and taking up valuable public space.

“We need to shift to a better system, one that prioritises people over private vehicles, gives space for communities to thrive and makes them happier, healthier, and greener places to live.”

The research found Nottingham, Bradford and Leeds had no weekly charge for a parking permit but the weekly cost for parking bay suspensions were £23.38, £70 and £187.60 respectively.

In Liverpool, the weekly cost of a parking permit is a mere 4p but it costs £193 for a weekly parking bay suspension.

While obtaining a parking permit in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol, Newcastle and Manchester was more expensive, the report found there were still “considerable discrepancies” between those costs and the cost of a parking bay suspension.

Across those six cities, parking bay suspensions were between 33 and 353 times more expensive than a parking permit. The most expensive weekly parking permit was in Manchester at £4.33.

Possible is calling on local councils to reconsider the costs of parking permits to better reflect the effects of car ownership on the rest of society through pollution, road danger and loss of space.

Rob Bryher, Possible’s car-free Bristol campaigner, said: “The shocking disparities between the figures for different cities shows just how inconsistent the approach is to helping communities reclaim public spaces dominated by car parking.

“In Bristol alone, a parking bay suspension is 256 times more expensive than paying for a residential parking permit, which is completely locking communities out from seeing the possibilities of their streets no longer acting as car parks.

“We have to empower communities to transform their streets so they can reconnect with each other and with a little bit of nature, all while fighting for the climate in the process.”

Some spaces previously used for vehicle parking have been repurposed for community use, such as public seating or bicycle parking.

The charity wants to see an “affordable and easy process” for residents to “reclaim public space in ways that bring communities together, reduce car dominance and help the climate”.

David Renard, a transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said:: “Councils have to manage competing demands when setting charges for on street parking and suspended bays and take into account local circumstances.

“Suspended bays provide very limited additional road space and are commonly used to help with building renovations and house removals.

“Councils are working hard to find other ways to encourage more walking and cycling in local communities, such as the introduction of low-traffic neighbourhoods.”