Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
240. In promoting successful town centres is
the provision of parking and vehicular access, particularly for
cars, seen as a help or a hindrance?
(Mr Balch) That has very much been the focus of the
research that we are just finishing. I think the answer to that
depends upon the function that the town centre is fulfilling,
if, for instance, the evidence suggests that for a high proportion
of main purpose shopping trips access for the car is important.
For the most part policies seek to maintain that in, for instance,
the way in which charges are made for short stay parking. Access
for shoppers by car is important if you are going to have a competitive
town centre, but for other functions such as town centres as office
centres then it is less important. It seems from the research
that we have done that occupiers and investors are looking for
centres that can offer their labour force a choice of modes. You
cannot say there is one answer to that question. It depends upon
the function and it also depends upon the scale of the place.
In a market town like Taunton, which is one of the case studies
we have looked at, more than half of its catchment is in effect
a rural area where, despite the attempts to develop rural bus
services, in practice a high proportion of people are going to
come to that as a market town by car. It is therefore clearly
very important that access by car is protected. Over time policies
are being developed in that centre to get the balance right between
the car and the pedestrian environment, to start to introduce
park-and-ride so that the shopper does not necessarily have to
penetrate right to the heart of the town centre, but undoubtedly
for rural market towns the car will continue to be very important
to its function as a retail centre. For bigger metropolitan centres
there is obviously the opportunity to develop much more of a multi-modal
approach with a greater emphasis upon mass public transit systems.
241. You mentioned out of town centre shopping
and offices and the need for town centres to compete with that.
To what extent is the need for the provision of car parking also
about towns competing with other neighbouring towns in terms of
seeing them as competitors for trade?
(Mr Balch) That is clearly an issue and one of the
case studies we looked at has been Bristol where the development
of the Cribb's Causeway regional shopping mall on the edge of
the city with literally 10,000 free car parking spaces right next
to it is an issue for the city centre as it seeks to develop its
competitive response to that. What we are seeing is that town
and city centres are seeking to compete on the basis of their
strength, that as a policy seeking to manage the demand for the
use of the car in cities they have to start to offer a different
package in terms of a quality environment with alternative modes.
I think every centre is going to have to try to develop its own
competitive response in which transport and the quality of the
walking environment will be an important element.
(Mr Tallentire) We have to accept that there is a
competitive environment called town centres and they compete with
all forms of other attractions, whether it is other cities and
towns or out-of-town sites. Much of the research and the evidence
suggests that there are 80 locations throughout the United Kingdom
in which 50 per cent of all comparative goods are now purchased.
Fifteen years ago that was 200 locations. The locations successful
are getting larger and more concentrated and therefore other locations
are having to start to look at other means by which they will
retain that competitive edge, whether it be shopping or experienced
242. Would you welcome action by government
officers to harmonise parking standards between towns?
(Mr Tallentire) Taking Chris's point, so much of what
we are talking about is quite local specific and therefore we
believe that there should be a good strong policy framework with
the guidelines of implementation that allow those then left to
the local environment to determine what is most appropriate for
243. Given the evidence that there is, particularly
from the continent and now developing in the United Kingdom, of
the benefits of this type of activity, pedestrianisation, walking
and so on, why do you think it is that traders, particularly small
independent traders, resist strongly any attempt to remove traffic
from their areas or to restrict parking?
(Mr Tallentire) We have 20 case studies here, looking
at pedestrianisation in areas of that nature. We heard previously
the evidence when you were talking about innovative ideas of consultation.
The real innovation comes when they take notice of the consultation
and actually change their behaviour. So much of the consultation
process for pedestrianisation is not well conducted and therefore
the consulting authority effectively disenfranchises from small
traders in particular.
244. How should it be improved?
(Mr Tallentire) The Urban Alliance lists 50 ways and
methods of developing consultation processes from interviews with
individuals to consulting more widely. I should say that the reaction
to pedestrianisation is often different depending on the size
of the business. The disruption from the construction process
can be quite severe so that for companies like Boots and Marks
& Spencer, who may have a longer term perspective and be able
to weather a trading deficit for a period of time it is one decision,
but the small-and medium-sized enterprises in that town centre
may not be able to afford that nine or 12 months' disruption to
their business and trade and therefore the impact could be marginal
in terms of them staying in business.
245. Do you think it is all part of a general
lack of knowledge about the issues? Does that mean that there
needs to be far more research done? Should the Government not
be sponsoring this research so that there is a more definitive
credible body of research that would be used in this consultation
(Mr Tallentire) My own feelings are that in many of
the issues that we are talking about in towns and cities, and
their environment issues, a lot of research evidence which is
available if only people look. To conduct more research when in
fact many of the solutions are fairly apparent seems to me to
be hedging bets. We should be getting on and doing things as opposed
to conducting more research into things that we already have the
(Mr Balch) Can I add something?
(Mr Tallentire) He is a consultant so be careful.
(Mr Balch) Thank you, Alan. It is also, in delivering
some of these pedestrianisation schemes, important that they are
delivered within a clear vision or strategy for the centre in
which they are being delivered. If you have not taken the stakeholders
within a town centre (which include the traders obviously) into
that whole process of thinking about what type of town centre
you want to be, where are you trying to position yourselves in
relation to the competition, I think you are going to find it
very difficult then to sell to them a particular scheme. It has
to be part of the vision and the strategy.
246. We touched earlier on Marks & Spencer
and large players and the different attitudes they have. This
Committee asked for evidence from the Retail Consortium and its
members. They did not see fit to put any evidence in at all. They
did not seem interested. Is that something you can understand
and, if so, why?
(Mr Tallentire) I can offer a perspective, if that
is the case, that the retail industry is operating in quite serious
competitive frameworks at the present time and much of their efforts
have been concentrated on surviving. If you take for instance
Marks & Spencer, two years ago their business had a profit
of £1.2 billion. Today they are managing a profit of £400
million. It still seems an awful lot of money but in terms of
their business the priorities of all of their existing executives
are focused on surviving their business and longer term issues
of this nature may simply go to the back. I do not understand
the British Retail Consortium though.
247. Earlier on you did indicate to us that
one of the dramatic changes which has happened over the last few
years has been the concentration of centres where comparable goods
are available, 50 per cent now in 80 outlets. Is there a suspicion
that those who control these major outlets simply see themselves
as being beyond any sort of involvement here because it really
does not matter to them because they are too powerful?
(Mr Tallentire) Certainly the relationships I have
had with the retailers over the years give me no reason to think
that. It may be simply a resource issue.
248. As Town Centre Managers your members are
there to manage and develop town centres but it is other organisations
like local authorities who take the decisions. What is your opinion
of the level of co-ordination between the different disciplines
in local authorities?
(Mr Balch) I think there is evidence that there is
not as good joined-up thinking as there should be. You have planning
processes. You have got now the local transport planning process.
Almost inevitably they are not as well co-ordinated as they might
be. That is why I believe strongly that there needs to be a clear
strategy or vision for the delivery of all these various strands,
certainly at the level of the town centre, delivering an integrated
approach. I think that is an important role that the town centre
managers have, not just about co-ordinating the delivery of services
within the town centre but getting people thinking about the strategic
249. To tie you down on this, where would you
put it, this co-ordination? Poor, bad or serious?
(Mr Balch) I would say it is probably poor.
250. Some of my colleagues are going to find
out first hand the comparisons between towns and cities in mainland
Europe, but certainly from my experience of time spent in European
cities there seems to be rather more pedestrian priority in European
cities than there is in the United Kingdom. Why do you think that
(Mr Balch) I am not sure from my observation of Europe
that it is quite as black and white as that. Certainly my observation
of France is that they achieve a better balance between cars and
pedestrians in the town centre environment, not necessarily by
delivering full scale pedestrianisation but by allowing cars to
penetrate on the terms that they want cars to penetrate rather
than simply excluding cars. I think that that may be a reflection
of the regulatory processes affecting what you can do and what
you cannot do within the rules in terms of pedestrianisation.
That is one answer.
(Mr Tallentire) There is also the issue of the social
environment in which many of those countries exist. Certainly
the further you go down southern Europe towards the Mediterranean
there is much more of an interactive nature of the communities
themselves. They spend more time on the streets, they walk, they
collect there, they stop, they chat. The whole thing is very much
more of a community basis rather than much of ours is. The car
is in some respects part of their anarchy compared to our habitual
use of cars to do things. They are very much more social animals
than the Brits.
251. Did you say the car is part of their anarchy?
(Mr Tallentire) Anarchy, yes.
252. I thought you said anarchy. Your French
and Italian car drivers do not fit into this category.
(Mr Tallentire) They do not have this love with the
car. The car is a mechanism for getting to places. They seem much
more of a community. They have much more of a relationship with
their families than we do. If you go out to any French or Italian
restaurant and you see three or four generations of families there
together. We do not have that interactive nature.
253. I am not sure I recognise the Italian male's
relationship with the motor car as the one you have described.
(Mr Tallentire) It is probably more French than Italian.
(Mr Balch) There is obviously a climatic factor too.
We are a northern European country.
254. So are Copenhagen and Amsterdam, but they
do not have necessarily the Latin culture with the car.
(Mr Balch) We must be careful about looking at pedestrian
activity in the high street as opposed to pedestrian activity
within high street shopping malls where there has been huge investment
over the last 20 or 30 years. That is primarily where investment
has gone into town centres and there the property industry and
the occupiers are delivering a managed pedestrian environment
which is safe, which is light, which is clear of obstructions,
that has places for people to sit.
255. Which is the same town after town.
(Mr Balch) Yes, but the customers do go there, do
they not? The challenge is in a way to take and adapt and develop
that formula and put it into the high street.
(Mr Tallentire) I think the point is well made. If
you are looking at shopping centres at the present time in town
centres, 50 per cent of them were built between 1985 and 1991.
50 per cent of the current stock of shopping centres were built
in that period, which is partly where the reaction of PPG 6 came
about in the early nineties, because of over-development in that
area. What we are now seeing is a development of the experience
based economy and the competitiveness between one location and
another and the building in of experience. That will change dramatically
over the next five to ten years, the delivery of those shopping
centres, of which nearly 700 are in town centres at the present
256. Do you think that the European experience
is a model or does it not matter very much?
(Mr Tallentire) Constantly looking at the continental
European model is to suggest a logic in substantially transplanting
it over here. It will not necessarily work that way. We do not
promenade down streets. If you go to Bologna at midnight on a
Friday or Saturday evening the whole place is heaving with people
walking around, families walking around. We do not have that sort
of culture, so simply creating the environment does not create
the opportunity to use it.
257. Some of the less pleasant features of British
cities, railings which fence pedestrians in, staggered pelican
crossings, are more absent from continental cities. Do you not
think that there are lessons to be learned from that?
(Mr Tallentire) In that area there is a very good
point to be made, that we should be less of a nanny state in corralling
our pedestrians into very defined areas. You find evidence to
support this view in many countries. If you go to New Zealand
there is a point at which all the traffic lights at an intersection
will cease to admit traffic simultaneously and they have what
they call a barn dance. When you stand on a corner, instead of
having to go to two places to get where you want to go, first
to one place, then another you simply go diagonally all the traffic
stops for that period of time. It is that sort of pedestrian friendly
atmosphere and saying, "Let us have that" to facilitate
local drive. And of course in that sort of environment barriers
258. Pedestrians seek safety, do they not? In
the daytime pedestrianised areas are safe from cars, but at night
the absence of vehicles and people can make them less safe for
people who want to walk. What can we do about that?
(Mr Tallentire) There is an element of chicken and
egg here. I had not thought of it before. What reminded me in
your introduction is that if you have a child and you live in
a two-storey building you teach them how to go down steps and
they do not fear the steps, so it does not become a hazard. If
you continually bring people up to be corralled they cannot deal
with not being corralled. I think many of the areas are very safe;
they are just perceived to be unsafe because we have said by putting
barriers up that it is unsafe. If you remove the barriers I think
we all have an ability to develop strategies to live in that sort
259. But what strategies? If the pedestrian
is walking, say, in a town centre area, pedestrianised at night,
no-one around, no vehicles, few people, what strategies do we
(Mr Balch) This is where the pedestrian environment
involves lighting, it involves security, be that on street security
or CCTV, and it actually, I would suggest, is a way perhaps for
the total pedestrian solution where you are excluding cars which
could move in at night and are not going to produce congestion
which could be a way of making sure that you are keeping activity
in an area. If you look at the experience of many of our towns
and cities now they are seeking to develop night time economy
quarters where they can manage this activity and deal with the
safety issues by concentrating those sorts of evening activities
in a particular area. I think you need a strategy which has a
number of facets to it.