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Is getting rid of car parks a solution to the housing crisis?

Car park

Car parks take up enough space for at least 350,000 homes in the UK. Dr Ashley Hayden Is getting rid of some to free up space while promoting sustainable transport a solution to the UK's housing shortage?

Parking is entrenched into our DNA. Yet in our digital and technologically-driven world, parking has – ironically – become a common source of complaint about modern urban life. The average motorist in the UK spends nearly four days every year looking for parking spaces. Is eradicating parking spaces in urban landscapes a utopian vision? Is parking really fit for the modern world?  

The RAC Foundation estimates that there are between 17,000 and 20,000 non-residential car parks in the UK, including those run by councils, commercial parking companies, shops, hospitals, businesses, railway stations and airports. Between them they provide 3-4 million car parking spaces. Taking the minimum size for parking spaces and football pitches as a guide, that’s between 8,500 and 11,300 football pitches. 

Or, if we use the minimum space standards for a three-bedroom house and garden as a guide, that’s space for approximately 360,000-480,000 family homes, and probably up to seven or eight times as many flats. These are rough calculations, obviously.

"The drive to reduce parking provision in urban environments is spreading across the world"

The UK’s government housing target is to build 300,000 homes a year. However, other commentators suggest this figure needs to be much higher if we are to tackle the housing crisis in the UK. But the biggest constrain we face is enough space in the right places. Is one answer not simply to reduce car parking provision? 

The drive to reduce parking provision in urban environments is spreading across the world. For example, Paris has eliminated roughly 15,000 spaces since 2003 and other cities such as São Paulo, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are adopting similar policies to reduce parking. 

A recent sustainable travel survey amongst staff and students at Oxford Brookes University found the majority of their car drivers want a real alternative to the car. Many respondents indicated they needed their car, but were willing to consider alternative forms of transport. The data clearly indicates a real appetite to make a switch to leave the car at home in favour of public transport, walking or cycling. So how should policy makers unlock this appetite?

As we look forward to the New Year, will this year represent a change for the transport menu or will the landscape remain unchanged? I pray for the former, but my head is telling me otherwise.

As planners, we have the ability to champion innovation to push the boundaries and create spaces and places. This once was imagined to only be a dream. Perhaps a place without cars where people only cycle, walk or use public transport to move from one place to another is the future. Is this place so hard to imagine? 

As a new government unfolds and takes shape, will new policies emerge to make a real difference and deliver the houses we so desperately need in the UK? Furthermore, surely reducing car parking demand will have positive impacts for the environment as we move towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050? What is for sure, is that new policies will emerge and planners must be at the forefront of this change. We must strive to implement groundbreaking policies – despite how unpopular they might seem. Planners must create the mould and go against stereotypical norms to inform and deliver new spaces and places.

Dr. Ashley Hayden MRTPI is sustainable travel manager for Oxford Brookes University

Photo | iStock


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