Charges shoot up for Camberley car parks

Tonight’s meeting at Surrey Heath was on the thorny and controversial subject of car parking charges and in particular, how much should people pay to use the Camberley Town Centre car parks?

In all my time since 1999, this has been a regular topic for discussion and again is one of those balancing acts. No-one wants to pay much to park their car but the money goes to subsidise some of our other services like day centres and also maintain our car parks.

On the table was a proposal to increase the charges so:-

Knoll Road would now be £1 an hour, £1.50 for 2 hrs, £2 for 3 hrs, £3 for 4 hrs and £4 above that with evenings up from £1 to £1.50. This means charges going up by 25%-50%.

The (much busier) Main Square car park increases would be lower namely £1.80 for 2 hrs, £2.30 for 3 hrs, £3.50 for 4 hrs, £5 for 6 hrs and £7 for all day and evenings being £2 from £1.50.  These increases are around 10% apart from a 33% increase for evenings.

In order to justify these large increases, an independent consultant (at what cost?) had assessed a number of other town centres and felt we were on the low side.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t actually address the psychology of the average car parker which goes something like this…

If you live in Surrey Heath and want to go shopping, where do you go?  Camberley Town Centre maybe? Woking? Guildford? Your local village? or maybe The Meadows, Watchmoor Park or Farnborough Gate which are all free of charge.

But you probably didn’t think about Crawley, Dorking, Elmbridge, Epsom, Horsham or Staines (or even Bolton which got a mention!) and yet they were all places thought to be useful comparisons…put simply, their charges are irrelevant if Surrey Heath residents would not consider going there in the first place.

Secondly, anyone who lives in residential areas around Camberley will know that many workers refuse to pay £4 or £6.50 a day for the Council’s car parks and instead use Park Road, Heatherdale Road or others and walk instead. This suggests that although the Council thinks it offers good value, the cost benefit analysis for the workers is that the Council’s car parks are too expensive for them compared to the alternative (free parking and a 10 min walk). They simply don’t see the point of paying £20 to £35 a week to park their car at work and are prepared to spend 20 extra minutes a day commuting (i.e. walking).

Thirdly, Knoll Road is currently not a busy car park.  There are numerous places in the town where you can park completely free of charge in the evening so it is only really going to affect theatre goers. These people are of course supporting the Council in other ways so as helping to reduce the enormous subsidy to the theatre.

The interesting point tonight was that many traders had apparently privately contacted the Council to express their concern at the proposals in light of what they believe is reduced footfall and the impact to their businesses. Unfortunately, whilst Camberley has held up reasonably well, many shops have still closed for various reasons.

Rather than fiddling with the system and making unpopular changes, one radical solution would be to use a pricing system similar to planes, trains and football clubs.  Put simply, you charge less when your demand is low (weekdays and evening) and charge more when demand is high (weekend and Christmas)

We do exactly the same with spaces in the car parks so for example, rather than charging the same throughout a car park, a ground floor premium space (popular with shoppers) costs more than a space on the top floor (popular with workers). This would also help some of the other “parking psychology” issues such as people desperately trying to get into the first space they see and holding up the queue for everyone else.

Parking charges are an important income stream for the Council but the key is to be innovative and to find the tipping point to maximise our income – sadly a missed opportunity…


3 thoughts on “Charges shoot up for Camberley car parks

  1. Ian MacDonald

    What brief was the independent consultant given?
    I have independently checked the data in ANNEX 2 “Comparative car parking charges across region 2012/13” and I have found a number of serious errors in the quality and accuracy of data used which I believe puts into question any reliance on the information.

    • The actual car park on which the figures are based is not stated in many cases and as there are a number of car parks in each town this does not allow an honest comparison of like for like charges across similar types of parking and car parks. Either a strict comparison should have been made or an average for each town shown. Short term, long term, multi storey, open, pay and display or metered is not stated or included in the comparison.

    • They do not list the cost of parking for 30 minutes and 1 hour in all cases and instead mark N/A in the data.
    This is misleading as it creates a false assumption that N/A means either unavailable or free.
    Parking for 30 minutes in Camberley at present costs £1.60 as does 1 hour and should be listed in the data as such not with N/A so a proper comparison and average figure can be shown in the data.

    • A number of the towns listed have populations far greater than double that of Camberley with vastly larger shopping centres .
    These towns cannot reasonably be listed as comparable for purposes of this report as their inclusion artificially increases the average quoted. e.g. Crawley, Reading, Guildford and Woking.
    In the case of Crawley it is far outside the average catchment of Camberley. Why is it included when Basingstoke and other closer towns are not?
    This brings into question the source of data included in this report and whether it has been correctly and scientifically sampled.
    I also note the new charges are higher than those proposed in Annex 2, why? Did they decide they could get away with a further bump in prices while they were at it?

    Comparative Data
    I have independently sourced data for the same towns Surrey Heath has used in Annex 2 and come up with a very different picture.
    I used data sourced from council web sites and included charges for 30 minutes to 5 hours.
    In most cases I have used the same car parks used by Surrey Heath in their data but in a number of cases I have used car parks which are larger and closer to the centre of the town e.g. ANNEX 2 uses the Maltings car park pricing while the Upper Hart car park is closer to the centre and is both bigger and cheaper.
    My data shows that the average for all car parks is very different to the regional average as quoted by Surrey Heath in Annex 2.
    For example Annex 2 shows an average 2 hour parking figure of £1.79 while the average from my corrected data is £1.65 while if only towns of a more comparative sixe are included the figure comes down again to £1.38.
    At present Camberley’s charge for two hours is £1.60 with a proposed rise to £1.80, either figure would be higher than average for the whole region they sampled.
    It can also be seen that Camberley charges are vastly more expensive than the average for 30 minute and 1 hour parking, this fact was hidden in the Surrey Heath figures. At the proposed new base charge of £1.80 Camberley would be more expensive than any town in the whole of the local region sampled. It is upsetting for residents and shopkeepers that Surrey Heath choose to make a flat charge for up to 2 hours parking.
    This puts Camberley at a great local disadvantage with no offer of 30 minute and one hour parking.

    Please also note that that nine of the local small towns offer free or cheaper Sunday parking than Camberley.

    One town offers a workers rate, a reduced rate for those working or running business in the town.

    The increase in evening parking is interesting, Sainsbury’s in Camberley have just announced a trial closing earlier at 7pm as their evening trade has fallen.
    I remember when we had three department stores and three supermarkets in the town, if we continue on the present course where will we be in five years time?


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