Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  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 based retail.

  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 themselves.

Mr Stevenson

  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 exercise?
  (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 answers to.
  (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 issues.

  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.

Mr Blunt

  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 is?
  (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.

Mr Olner

  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 time.

  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 cannot exist.

Mrs Ellman

  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 of environment.

  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 adopt?
  (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.

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