Katie Bulmer-Cooke: The problem of Sunderland's city centre car parking
The last week has seen a lot of coverage of the announcement that parking charges are set to rise in the city centre.
Not only has it been a hot topic for Sunderland’s main media outlets, but it’s also featured fairly heavily in Facebook’s newsfeed too, with many people in the city taking to the social media platform to air their views and opinions.
For me there are two ways to look at the situation.
Firstly, if improvements are to be made to the city centre’s infrastructure and appearance, then investment will be required. Tasks such as making improvements to car parks and traffic management can’t just be magically completed, free of charge, so if we want to see enhancements then there needs to be an understanding and appreciation that money needs to be spent, and that money must come from somewhere.
On the flip side, parking increases, in a city where parking is already limited and in places expensive, will no doubt have a negative effect on city centre trade.
There are many local, small to medium size businesses who are already vocal about the impact that limited parking and charges have on them, and these changes, although relatively small, could further deter locals from choosing to head into the city centre to spend their hard earned cash.
While it was published this week that Sunderland remains one of the cheaper cities to park in the UK, that is of little relevance if you don’t park in other cities and you want to frequent businesses in the city centre of Sunderland.
I for one, don’t park my car in Sunniside, for example, and think to myself, ‘this is a bargain compared to parking in Manchester’, instead I think, ‘have I got enough change, because it’s canny expensive here’.
Only time will tell if these small increases will have a big impact on the city centre footfall and economy.
I do hope that it doesn’t become a contributing factor to more businesses closing and/or moving elsewhere.
The ability to park easily and cheaply should never be under estimated when it comes to influencing people’s purchasing decisions, and while it’s no doubt important to continue to improve roads and traffic management, it would also be a very welcome gesture to have some money collected from the parking charge increases put towards helping businesses in the city centre in some way shape or form.
It’s always great to see big brands and high street chains choosing Sunderland as a place to open new outlets, but it’s important that the smaller businesses, often run and owned by people from Sunderland, aren’t over looked, as ultimately, they are the back bone of the economy and should be supported and championed as much as possible.