Car Parking in the Town Centre: facts, figures and possibilities

 Marianne Pitts writes;

Covent Garden carpark needs to be replaced as it has “concrete cancer” and two floors are already out of action. Even so, the revenue gained by WDC is some £ ¾ million a year and its 456 spaces are fully used by an average of 800 drivers per day, 65% by shoppers (short term parking) and 35% by workers (long term parking). While being redeveloped these 456 spaces need replacement in the town centre (defined as within 400 yards of Royal Priors).

Various alternatives have been considered, none of which fulfil the need – but the two most obvious have not.

The first obvious solution is to build a new multi-storey on the Covent Garden surface car park parallel to the failing one – before demolishing it. This would lose only 81 spaces. The cleared multi-storey car-park site could then accommodate offices and housing along Tavistock Street, including the WDC new HQ.

The second obvious solution would be to build additional levels onto Chandos Street carpark, which is the most popular in town. This would need expensive reinforcement of the foundations and be expensive – but would yield good revenues while it is in use, and would pay for itself in less than a decade. Only one estimate has been submitted for this so far – not enough for an informed decision. WDC have entertained alternative plans for Chandos Street for some years and are reluctant even to consider this alternative properly. There may also be other sites in the town centre for a substitute and / or extra multi-storey carpark, to be built before Covent Garden is demolished – Bedford Street / Augusta Place / others?

WDC is determined to connect the Covent Garden car-park problem with another: rehousing its offices at Riverside House. The idea is to sell that valuable site for housing and build and sell 44 flats plus offices on the Covent Garden site, using the money to pay for their new HQ. Claims have frequently been made that the whole plan is cost neutral, but it is not: rebuilding Covent Garden carpark needs an extra £8.5 Million. It is therefore not dependent on the Riverside site sale and could be started at once.

There are also unintended and unconsidered consequences to the policy of redeveloping Riverside Road for residential use. This will remove the 270 existing parking spaces for WDC staff and visitors which are always full. The new development proposes that 57 spaces be set aside for WDC staff, so where will the rest of the 350 staff park once WDC is in the town centre? They will not all use public transport, walk or cycle to town. What proportion is expected to work from home? Half? A quarter? WDC officers currently enjoy free parking and will not be pleased to pay.

The town is already short of parking, and Covent Garden is 31% of the town’s supply. Comparable towns such as Winchester, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury have two to three times the number of off-street parking spaces in their town centres. Visitors, shoppers and workers will not consider Leamington Spa if they cannot park easily and reasonably cheaply.

Most of the data in this article relies on information collated by BID Leamington over two years, based on daily and monthly ticket sales data supplied by WDC for every town centre car-park and on-street parking; the “churn” of parking places; the number of disabled parking; of season tickets; and includes consultation with the town’s businesses on the issue.

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