Urban dwellers: Is the car a blessing or a curse in the city?

Would you pay £100,000 for garage space, or move into an apartment block that offered no parking facilities? Unless public transport improves, Penny Jackson doubts city dwellers will ever give up their vehicles
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The Independent Online

Private parking spaces in London are like gold-dust. They are hard to find and can cost a small fortune, sometimes more than the average national house price. This week a garage space in a Kensington square became vacant with a price ticket of £100,000, up from £65,000 in a matter of months.

Money net

Private parking spaces in London are like gold-dust. They are hard to find and can cost a small fortune, sometimes more than the average national house price. This week a garage space in a Kensington square became vacant with a price ticket of £100,000, up from £65,000 in a matter of months.

First refusal goes to the purchaser of a £2.7m house who, it is assumed, will not want to fight for a bay in the street. The underground car park in Earl's Terrace was built by Northacre, the developers, after a long battle with the local authority.

At the top end of the market, buyers will pay a heavy premium for the privilege. At The Bromptons, spaces under the old hospital which sold to the original purchasers for £35,000 are now between £50,000 and £60,000 and on the Kings Chelsea development of almost 300 new homes, buyers will have to pay £40,000.

For those who had had enough of narrow and congested residential streets, the developments in Docklands and east London made life for car-owners seem blissful. Initially, there was little alternative, given how poor transport links were, but people have now come to expect a space if buying a new apartment.

But since local planning authorities received a directive from central government last spring that they should reduce car-parking provision, spaces cannot be taken for granted. This came as sharp surprise to one investor whose experience in the buy-to-let market east of Tower Bridge had not prepared him for an absence of parking spots.

Julian Bovis was close to purchasing several apartments in a block of 20 in Bow, east London, when his solicitor alerted him to a small detail in the contract. "Until then, I had no idea that parking was not available anywhere on this development," he says. "The properties were not cheap, between £180,000 and £250,000, and I had assumed it would be provided. At first, I had thought I might offer a season ticket or vouchers for car-hire to my prospective tenants but, because the developers obviously saw it as a problem and tried to shuffle it off in the small print, I decided to pull out, at some cost to myself.

"I agree in principle with the idea of discouraging people from using cars in London, but it would have made it much more difficult for me to let the flats. No one is going to get rid of their car just to live there, so as a landlord you are only going to attract those people without cars."

His view is shared by FPDSavills, the agents marketing the prestigious Canary Riverside development, who strongly advise purchasers without a parking space they would be at a disadvantage when they came to sell.

Making a virtue of no-parking can become a selling point for canny developers. One SE8, a large new St James development in Deptford, south-east London, has been wooing buyers with the prospect of a car rental service on site, in a simple and efficient booking system.

The purpose behind the Government's policy is to encourage planning authorities to look at the public transport available before allocating space to cars, says a spokesman from the Department of Transport. "They should think more strategically and if it is a site without public transport, perhaps it is not the best place for a development."

The congestion charges proposed by the Mayor, Ken Livingstone for the capital by 2003 will make little difference to the lives of 86 per cent of the Londoners who answered a survey by Beaney Pearce, estate agents in Kensington. Some 57 per cent said they would pay to drive into the charging zone, and many of the remaining 43 per cent who said they would take public transport, would opt for a taxi.

The same survey showed 57 per cent of buyers felt parking was a vital consideration when buying a new home. "Yet small developments will get consent only at 60 per cent of occupancy," says Linda Beaney. Studios and one-bedroom flats would be unlikely to qualify. "Purchasers were more concerned about convenience than safety, but that could well change. It doesn't matter how close you are to the Tube if you have to think twice about walking down a road at night."

But innovative schemes can produce more spaces than usual. London Town has created underground parking facilities at two developments fronting the Thames, by using a German parking and stacking system which uses less space and gives every apartment at least one bay. It takes a few minutes to retrieve a car with a special key card.

In older properties, off-street parking has long carried a premium but, with some local authorities now refusing planning permission for front gardens to be turned into hard-stands, this route is being closed off. Mark Chick, of Leslie Marsh & Co in Notting Hill, says that since it can add up to £75,000 to the value of certain houses, it is tempting. "One man who 'helped' a horrible wall fall down was not only stopped from using the garden for parking but had to rebuild the wall in the original style of the house, which cost a few thousands." In parts of Chelsea, the same edict applies, says Andy Buchanan of John D Wood, who often sees garages used for boats, wine or books as well as cars. He will be offering the new owner of an 18th-century house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, the use of six garages at £6,000 a year.

"Everyone finds the search for a parking space stressful, especially when you have to stop outside your home with small children or for unloading. After a minute, horns start hooting. People from out of London will pay £35,000 for a place they can leave their car as long as they want, and use it as a meeting place."

In Oxford, renowned for stringent parking controls, the problems are similar. But in Woodstock the residents have found a way around the no-parking restrictions. William Kirkland, of Cluttons, said residents make themselves known to the traffic warden, who then lets them be. "But a buyer from London pulled out when he was told of the parking arrangements. He couldn't bring himself to rely on it working."