Monday 26 September 2016

Parking mayhem is choking our small towns

Joe Barry

Published 28/10/2015 | 02:30

Chock-a-block in Kilcock: Parking space is at a premium in the Kildare town
Chock-a-block in Kilcock: Parking space is at a premium in the Kildare town

Do you live near a town or village in a rural area and within the commuter belt of any of our large towns or cities? If so then you will no doubt share my outrage at the way that town centres are being allowed to wither and die.

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We have all read about the problems caused by the closure of post offices and Garda barracks in rural Ireland but little has been written about the difficulty of finding parking in order to buy a newspaper, use the ATM, purchase groceries or maybe have a coffee and a sandwich.

Part of the problem is caused by people who drive in from the countryside to get the bus or train to work and many park their cars for the entire day, thereby taking up valuable space that would allow others to stop and do business in the local shops. On my travels throughout Ireland I always try to avoid motorways if possible.

While this undoubtedly takes longer, it adds interest to the journey and allows me to see all the smaller villages and towns that have been bypassed by new roads and enjoy the features that one misses when driving on the major highways.

An all too frequent sight is that of a busy foreign owned supermarket on the outskirts of a small town with its huge car park facilitating shoppers coming and going throughout the day. One cannot help but ponder on the consequent loss of trade to the town centre.

In contrast, the smaller locally owned shops in the heart of the town are often almost empty. I used to think this was maybe because of the price of goods but on closer inspection, it is clear that that is not the case.

Small local shops in general offer great value and even better, shopping in them is a pleasant, sociable and relaxing experience.

But there is nothing relaxing about driving around narrow streets searching for a non-existent gap among lines of parked cars so you can pop on to a newsagents or restaurant. Failing to find a space, you then take the easiest option available and drive on to the next town in the hope that you will be able to find somewhere to park in safety and comfort.

Frequently you will find that, having

passed through perhaps five towns or villages, you just give up and head for either a garage forecourt or supermarket car park on the outskirts where sustenance is on offer.

Local authorities

It was not my original intention to criticise supermarkets but rather to comment on the failure of local authorities to provide proper parking and thereby enable our small shops to compete and survive.

Before writing this I had just visited my home town of Kilcock where all the car parking spaces were taken and I had to double park in order to purchase the daily paper.

This is now a regular occurrence and I was told that the previous day one lady had in desperation also double parked to use the ATM and buy a newspaper and for her sins received an €80 fine.

All of this is thanks to a newly revamped town square that has reduced our parking spaces hugely and will, without any doubt, cause most of the few remaining small retail outlets to close down.

The owner of one of the diminishing number of shops still surviving in Kilcock told me that no one can now pull up for a brief pause and get a meal or shop for whatever.

There is simply nowhere to stop and if you do, a traffic jam ensues.

The new layout of our square is indeed attractive to the eye but no alternative parking has been provided so the shopkeepers suffer and more will undoubtedly close.

To add insult to injury, I have just received a press release from Retail Ireland, who represent the retail sector. Their new consumer spending projections for the year are predicting the best performing Christmas in seven years for Irish retailers.

Tax cuts in the recent budget are expected improve consumer confidence and boost spending just in time for the crucial Christmas trading period.

We all heartily appreciate tax cuts but what good is this to our small retailers if their customers cannot stop to shop.

It will simply mean more money for the supermarkets and less business for our village centres.

Closure of small shops leads to breakdown of community spirit

While checking the facts relating to shopping trends on the internet, I found the following startling reports from some British newspapers. They stated across the country the small retailer is being wiped out.

There has been a massive decline in the numbers of fishmongers, butchers, greengrocers and independent bakeries.

In all these categories, the number of specialists has fallen by 90pc since the 1950s, and at least 40pc in the last decade alone.

They have been driven out by supermarkets, which now sell 97pc of our food.

Next to the motor car, nothing else has so radically changed the look and texture of our environment over the last half-century.

Supermarkets minimise human contact in the interests of efficiency and convenience, most recently by introducing self-service lanes for payment. As one critic put it, they "cut the threads that hold an engaged community together".

I couldn't agree more and the facts are undeniable. The moment an 'out of town' shopping centre, with its large, free car park opens, the small shops in the same town begin to feel the pain.

The solution is obvious. Provide parking facilities where they are needed and allow 15 minutes before there is a charge.

This would eliminate all day parking and at the same time enable those essential short stops to occur.

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