A first-hand look at Farnborough's 'secret' car park – which cannot be accessed by cars

It can be confirmed drivers on the hunt for a space would need something like a car catapult to flip into the bays

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The Independent Online

There are few things more likely to anger the residents of the gridlocked Home Counties than parking. Or, more precisely, the lack of it. 

So the revelation that an 80-space rooftop car park in Farnborough has sat empty for five years because developers failed to build an entrance for cars has left motorists in the Hampshire town seeing red.

On Sunday we reported on the existence of the “secret” car park, which was built five years ago, after rumours of the near-mythical facility emerged on social media. 

As astonishment at the farcical construction spread, The Independent decided to take a first-hand look at Britain’s most mysterious car park. And having walked in through the pedestrian entrance that developers did think to install, we can confirm what Farnborough residents feared; drivers on the hunt for a space would need something like a car-catapult to flip themselves into the bays from street level.

A lack of parking is a long-running issue in Farnborough, a town dominated by drive-through fast-food chains and huge roundabouts, and the discovery of the five-year-old car park has left locals baffled. To add insult to injury, the discovery comes as several other busy car parks in the town are closed for maintenance or are being turned into shops.

Meanwhile the 80 spaces of the mystery car park are sitting empty and can be accessed only via, on foot, a dark concrete staircase. The car park does have excellent security, though; as no sooner had The Independent set foot on its pristine bays to investigate the lack of motor vehicles, than I was escorted off the roof by a walkie-talkie-wielding security guard. 

We had been spotted on CCTV “acting suspiciously”. In fact, we were trying to work why on earth the asphalt had white traffic arrows that, if followed, would lead drivers to a sticky end over the edge of the car park. 

The car park, which is above a Sainbury’s supermarket and a pet store, is intended to provide parking to an adjacent residential block, which overlooks the site. In the hope the inhabitants of smart flats could shed some light on the parking puzzle I approached resident Natalie Williams, 27, who lives in one of the flats with her two young children. 

“Everybody is moaning about it,” she said. “We were promised parking within two weeks when we first moved in. That was five years ago now but nothing has happened and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen overnight. I’ve got two young children and it’s not fun dragging buggies and shopping across the town centre for the alternative parking they have arranged for us.”

Developer St Modwen, which is leading a £80m revival of Farnborough town centre and built the block, has denied the car park is a “secret”. When pressed, the company said it “refused to speculate” on when the development might be completed and vehicle access to the car park be installed.

Locals are understandably unimpressed. Sitting below the car park in front of a branch of PamPurred Pets local retiree Bob Smith speaks for many. He is registered disabled and has lived in the town for 25 years and remembers all too well the promises from St Modwen that the regeneration of the town centre would ease parking problems. 

“I remember hearing about the car park years back, but like most people I suppose I’d forgotten about it,” he said. “I’m disabled and it took my four circuits of the town centre to find a space today. It’s just not good enough, particularly for old codgers like me. There needs to be a plan.”

Mr Smith isn’t alone in pouring scorn on St Modwen amid accusations from local councillors that the company, which described itself as the UK’s leading regeneration specialist, is “taking the community for granted”. 

Councillor Gareth Lyon, who chairs the town’s planning committee, said: “It all sounds a bit ridiculous if you are coming to it fresh, but parking can be a nightmare here and the big issue here is that the developers here have been really poor at communicating with the local residents. This is a serious situation. People are already shopping in Guildford or Reading instead because we don’t have the facilities we need. The developer could be doing so much more.”

Tim Sedden, a regional director for St Modwen, said: “The car park was completed as part of the build contract for the Sainsbury’s block. 

“It will be a private car park for residents only, for which the access has always been designed in the overall regeneration plan to be via a bridge link from a new block that will be in a subsequent phase of development.”