Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by National Car Parks (IT 107)



  1.1 National Car Parks (NCP) is the U.K.'s largest private sector operator of car parks. The company operates just under 500 car parks nationwide, employs 400 personnel and has an annual turnover of £165 million (as at 31 March 1997). However, in comparison to local authorities' parking operations, we represent 10 per cent of the total car parking market.

  1.2 In May 1998 NCP was acquired by the US-based Cendant Corporation (Cendant) and now operates within the context of one of the biggest and most diverse travel-related groups in the UK. Other brands in the Cendant group are Green Flag (breakdown recovery services), Cendant Business Answers (vehicle fleet management and car leasing, formerly known as PHH), Capital Logistics (a bus and coach operator) and RCI (the European arm of the world's largest timeshare exchange operation). Given this diversity of travel-related operations, the Transport White Paper deeply affects our business environment in a number of ways.

  1.3 This submission focuses on the NCP perspective on urban transport policy and the implications for urban traffic management. In particular, we consider parking controls, congestion charging, workplace parking and retail parking charges.

  1.4 In partnership with London First, we are undertaking an extensive research project into the effect of some of the White Paper's proposals on traffic in the capital. We also work very closely with the Association of Town Centre Management, of which NCP is a member, on a nationwide basis. Through this research and with the expertise built up through over 40 years of operation, NCP can continue to make a positive contribution to the development of transport policy in our town and city centres. We hope this paper can form part of that process.


  2.1 In NCP's policy document "The Role of Car Parks in an Integrated Transport Strategy" published in February 1998 (a copy of which is enclosed), we argue that private off-street car parks are vital components in an integrated transport strategy. In designing local transport plans which encompass measures on congestion charging, workplace parking charges and on-street parking, local authorities should have due regard to the role NCP can perform.

  2.2 NCP aims to promote the vitality of urban centres which we see as both a quality-of-life and a commercial issue. The car, along with other transport modes, is a key component in delivering that vitality. However, as the White Paper says, car use cannot be allowed to continue unfettered without threatening the health of businesses and communities. There are many ways to achieve this necessary management of car usage and the White Paper analyses these in some detail. However, it overlooks one of the most important methods: the off-street car park. This facility is a vital tool for the following reasons.

2.3 Containment and Access

  Off-street car parks perform the necessary dual functions of keeping parked cars away from busy roads and limiting the areas of a city centre through which they need to travel. This ameliorates traffic congestion, together with pollution, and allows freer movement of essential city centre traffic. By focusing parking in a specific area, drivers have the ability to go directly to an off-street car park and not make time-consuming and inefficient journeys looking for on-street or illicit parking spaces. Off-street parking provision is especially helpful for drivers in unfamiliar city centres.

2.4 Integration Hubs

  Within the objective of an integrated transport policy, the car park can provide central points from which drivers can transfer to other modes of travel. For instance, bus terminals, train stations and car parks can be co-located. In this context, car parks have the potential to become transport information points, providing details on train and bus travel and aiding the "seamless journey".[7]

2.5 Security Against Crime

  Off-street car parks afford a greater level of security against car and personal crime than on-street parking and our own research shows that this is very much part of their appeal. Whilst it is clearly not within NCP's power to eliminate crime totally on its premises, we are achieving significant results. A high proportion of NCP car parks already have CCTV in place and this number is increasing steadily; also most NCP car parks are manned and regularly patrolled. This level of real and perceived security is essential in attracting people into urban centres.

2.6 Convenience

  Off-street car parks are the only option for many segments of society: large families, the old and infirm, the disabled or anyone with large amounts of shopping. Car parks thus play an integral part in creating an inclusive transport infrastructure. Co-location of NCP car parks with retail and business centres provides a vital advantage over park-and-ride schemes for people who, for whatever reason, may find bus, train or tram travel inconvenient or impractical.

2.7 Park and Ride

  Park and Ride does not need to be an exclusively edge-of-town phenomenon. Off-street car parks convey the ability for drivers to access the heart of a city and connect with other transport modes.

  2.8 NCP believes also that discouragement of car use and encouragement of use of public transport should not be based solely upon penalising the car user. The use of cars is for many a necessity and many rural communities rely solely on this mode of transport in the absence of any real alternative.

  2.9 The problem of urban congestion is getting worse and there should be no delay in introducing legislation requiring local authorities to produce comprehensive local transport plans, working with companies such as NCP and other major retailers. We urge the Government to make provision for this in the Queen's Speech. The cost of delay is growing congestion and pollution and a further reduction in the vitality of urban centres.


  3.1 We entirely concur with the view that local authorities should "control on-street parking to prevent vehicles obstructing traffic and pedestrians."[8] If sensibly implemented this policy will greatly contribute to reducing congestion with clear benefits for the resident, commuter and shopper.

  3.2 However, there must be careful co-ordination between town-centre partners, especially NCP, if the increase in on-street parking controls is not to have inadvertent and possibly adverse effects. Traffic management plans must be agreed between all town centre partners and communicated effectively to the public in order that their travel and parking options are clear to them. Otherwise, restriction of perceived parking capacity in town centres may have the effect of driving consumers towards out-of-town retail outlets.

  3.3 The majority of drivers will use the off-street alternatives offered by NCP and others. Demand for off-street car parking may well rise in the short-term before alternative transport modes impact upon demand. Whether this demand can be effectively met will vary greatly from area-to-area and will depend upon a range of factors including:

    —  nature of the on-street controls;

    —  existing off-street capacity and the potential for development;

    —  other policies in the local transport plan;

    —  levels of workplace charging and congestion charging;

    —  ability of drivers to switch modes of transport.

  3.4 Our message is that when local authorities come to consider controlling on-street parking, they will have to take into account the extent and availability of off-street alternatives, including those generated by the councils themselves. NCP will be ready and willing to act as consultees in the process of designing these plans. In monitoring Local Transport Plans, the Secretary of State should have regard to the extent to which private car park operators have been consulted.


  4.1 NCP recognises the need for introduction of this policy. We strongly concur with the widely held view that unless alternative travel modes are already in place the motorist is being unduly penalised. In the long-term, reducing parking spaces will increase the numbers of people walking, cycling and using public transport. However, in the short-term, the White Paper makes it clear that improvements in these alternatives will depend on the new charges for funding; i.e., charges will precede improvements.

  4.2 Around 18 per cent of NCP's business comes from season tickets purchased by companies for their employees use. The White Paper is short on detail as to how this practice will be affected by workplace charging and we look forward to the publication of the consultation document to clarify this issue.

  4.3 NCP believes that private car park operators providing workplace parking to companies should be exempt from these charges, for four reasons:

    —  in effect, the charges will operate as a direct tax on the private car park operator for which parking is the sole business activity;

    —  the charges will be levied by local authorities which are the chief competitors to the private sector car park operators—in effect giving councils strong monopoly power over parking in their area;

    —  local authorities' car parks, it appears, may be exempt from the charging framework;

    —  NCP provides many of its season-ticket spaces to employees for whom public transport is not viable. Nurses and other night-workers use their cars—and our car parks—because no other options are available to them when they are travelling to and from work. It would be wholly unfair to expect these groups to pay more for their parking, especially as they are not contributing to the day-time congestion problem.

  4.4 We concur with the view that there should be a strong presumption against local authorities operating both workplace and congestion charges, for the same reasons as outlined in paragraph 4.1 above. Also, it seems correct and consistent with the aims of the White Paper that workplace charging should apply to out-of-town as well as urban sites.

  4.5 The impact of workplace charging on urban businesses must be carefully monitored and the longest feasible time given to assessing pilot projects and, if implemented, to appropriate levels of charging.

  4.6 We note with great concern that leisure and retail developments are not to be subject to parking charging initially and believe this relaxation should be extended to urban businesses, with the same proviso that exempted businesses "make significant progress . . . in the form of . . . reduced car dependency."[9] The charges will impose a cost on businesses at a time in the economic cycle when they can least afford it and NCP, along with other city centre retailers, is very concerned about the potentially negative impact on the urban economy. Giving businesses the opportunity to ameliorate workplace charges through the development of alternative schemes should lead to more varied and imaginative approaches. As companies come up with their own schemes, there will be the possibility for best practice to spread around the country.


  5.1 With London First, NCP is conducting research into the effects of congestion charging on the capital. This will be an important work in terms of its scope and topicality and we hope that it will provide useful information for policy makers centrally and in the regions.

  5.2 NCP will explore ways in which car parks can become integrated with congestion charging policies. They could operate as payment centres of the charge; or entering an urban centre could be made dependent upon having a pre-booked parking space or, perhaps, just upon the availability of parking spaces. There is the suggestion that local authorities may wish to distinguish between through traffic and visiting traffic, although it is not clear how, in which case the provision of parking spaces becomes all the more important.


  6.1 NCP is disappointed that the Government has decided not to impose charges on non-workplace private non-residential parking spaces. This means that out-of-town centres will continue to attract people out of urban centres, threatening their vitality. The stipulation to "identify appropriate measures" is far less onerous than a parking charge and it is difficult to see this as anything other than a soft option for these developments. Out-of-town congestion and pollution is no less serious than its urban counterpart and would be responsive to parking charges were they to be imposed. In the interests of fairness and maintaining a balance between urban and out-of-town developments we propose that workplace parking charges be similarly exempted (paragraph 4.6 above).

  6.2 Limiting car parking space for new developments to the "minimum necessary" is a very elastic clause and may prove difficult for local authorities to decide upon. Developers will be able to argue that it is necessary for parking spaces to be provided for all the anticipated customers: they may be allowed to get away with this as long as provision is also made for public transport access. If the aim is to restrict to parking spaces on new developments, then a more specific direction should be given to local authorities.


  7.1 In the interests of brevity we have not commented in detail on the many other policies covered in the White Paper, restricting ourselves instead to those areas which most directly impact upon our business.

  7.2 NCP would be delighted to expand upon these views to the Select Committee if so required.

Bob Mackenzie

Chief Executive

National Car Parks

25 September 1998

7   Chapter 3, p. 47. Back

8   Chapter 3, p. 59, "Local traffic Management: the potential" panel. Back

9   Chapter 4, p. 118, para. 4.116. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 28 April 1999