Smash Britain's parking meters? Now there's a clever idea

These West Wales vandals may have hit on a way to save Britain's flagging high streets

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The Independent Online

I must declare an interest – I am a lifelong pedestrian. But then again, so is every motorist once he/she emerges from the tin cocoon and becomes a butterfly.

So I was delighted to learn that when all the parking meters were wrecked in the lovely castle town of Cardigan in West Wales, the local shops reported hefty increases in their turnover. Delighted, but not surprised.

Because let’s call a spade a spade: parking meters are an indirect tax on local businesses and their customers imposed by the very people whose job it is to help them thrive. Nobody likes paying for the privilege of being able to spending their money in local shops – and why should they? So vast out-of-town stores with their vast free – and traffic warden-free - parking areas continue to bleed so many traditional centres dry.

Extracting money from motorists is something most councils these days do as though it was a victims-free enterprise. All drivers are udderful milch-cows, fatted geese with an endless supply of golden eggs. And pay these drivers must, with the result that ordering online or going to the hyperstore, even if it’s miles away, becomes the cheaper and vastly more convenient option. And another charity shop replaces a real one on the High Street.

In Cardigan, which relies on tourism, the benefits of free parking were felt instantly. Even the butcher’s shop (probably not frequented by tourists) has already reported business was  “better than it had been in years”, adding “the difference is unbelievable”. The high street cafe owner noted how much more relaxed her customers were, without wardens and fines to worry about. This is a feeling which quickly translates into more cakes and ale.

Cardigan councillors are scratching around to find £28,000 to repair the broken machines. They should stop in their tracks and try and think outside the parking meter. A friend has just told me that first parking meters went into service in Oklahoma this week in 1935, and that they were the brainchild of a newspaper editor, Carlton Magee. Apologies all round, then, but surely after 80 years of proliferation, fresh thinking is in order?

Many people do need vehicular access to shops.  It’s horses for courses: banning all street parking without reasonably accessible parking nearby can wreck trade as readily as ill-thought-out meters.  So councils need to think hard and avoid one-size-fits-all solutions. They also need to consult widely about issues like disabled parking and quick “I just need to pop in for…” stops.

Avoid the knee-jerk temptation to fix something the breaking of which has been a boon, not a bane. Establish what would be the best all-round solution for Cardigan and do it. Who knows, killing parking meters to revive town centres could just catch on.