Headlines: March 14th, 2007



Town centre managers will be told today that a third of shoppers would drive to a different place if a five pound congestion charge were introduced in the town or city where they currently shop. Edmund King, director of the motoring organisation, the RAC Foundation, will tell the annual conference of the Association of Town Centre Management that too many local councils look at traffic and transport in isolation and do not consider the wider needs of their areas.

Mr. King will warn delegates that shoppers are cautious about road pricing schemes under consideration in a number of places as part of the Government’s Transport Innovation Fund. He will use figures from a new report, ‘Motoring towards 2050: Shopping and Transport Policy’ being launched by the Foundation and the British Retail Consortium, and will call on town centre managers to consider lower off-peak congestion charges or even having no charges at peak times as well as improving parking provision.

Opinion data in the report, drawn up by GfK/NOP, shows that 70 per cent of shoppers arrive by car and even those without cars get lifts from friends or use taxis for a third of shopping trips. The survey found 31 per cent of shoppers said they would drive to a different destination if a five pound charge was introduced locally, 27 per cent would travel by different means and 21 per cent would make the journey less often.

The study also found that the average number of shopping trips has fallen by 13 per cent in ten years but the average length of each trip has increased by more than 10 per cent. Buses account for six per cent of all journeys but almost 30 per cent of bus trips were made for shopping. The report says the car has become the ‘shopping trolley of choice’ with almost two-thirds of people using it because it was convenient. Respondents also felt the car was cheaper and safer than alternatives although they were often unaware of the cost and availability of public transport.

Mr. King will tell the conference that long-term vision is essential for a town’s vitality and the consequences of changes to traffic management on the vitality of retail trade need to be considered. Even with Internet shopping cars cannot be wished away so they have to be planned for and planning needs to reflect the realities of how people live. He will say that ‘retail deserts’ with miles of houses and no local shops are dire and that each housing estate should have good transport links to at least one supermarket.

“Too many local authorities fall into the trap of looking at traffic and transport in isolation from the wider needs of the area. Minor changes such as parking controls or major changes such as congestion charging can ruin retail if not well planned,” he said.