12 Aug 2021

Why changes to car parking charges are good for Wirral


There is a lot of coverage in the press and on social media on agreed changes to car parking charges in Wirral. There are many reasons why I voted for this change. I’ve tried to set them out as briefly and clearly as possible below:


Wirral Council faces an acute budget crisis that threatens the provision of essential services. The government has agreed in principle to lend £10.7 million to cover this year’s shortfall. However, this money is not guaranteed and is dependent upon a robust plan to balance our finances for the current year and over the longer term.

Our most recent budget, which was agreed unanimously in March, includes a provision to increase revenue from car parking by £1 million. The Environment Committee has fulfilled its remit to provide for this following an extensive review of charges. This review commenced back in October last year. 20 different options were presented to members which were gradually reduced down to those considered at its meeting in May. There has been ample time for everyone involved to ask questions and gather relevant information. Charges at existing paid-for car parks will be standardised at £1 per hour up to a maximum of £5 per day. There will be a public consultation on introducing charges for those car parks which are currently free and at a variety of on-street coastal locations.

By law, Wirral Council cannot make a profit from car parking charges. These changes would mean the car parking service would, at last, “wash its face” and would no longer be a drain on other council services.


Stark inequalities across Wirral’s population are well known and well documented. Inequalities are acute when it comes to transport due to the high cost of public transport relative to the private car. These inequalities are exacerbated due to the long-standing priority given to traffic flow. This has led to much of our urban design being focused on traffic rather than people (which we are now investing heavily in to try and reverse via our regeneration schemes, especially in Birkenhead). This leads to inherent discrimination against non-car owners who disproportionately suffer the negative side effects from a degraded local environment and poor air quality. This in turn contributes to health inequalities and reduced life expectancy – respiratory failure is one of the four main health conditions contributing to massive differences in life expectancy across Wirral.

Furthermore, we know that 24% of Wirral adults are classified as “inactive” getting less than 30 minutes exercise per week. We have obligations as a council to address this and to consider appropriate measures that encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

Car parking charges can assist all of the above by reducing car journeys, easing congestion and addressing the socially regressive effects caused by free parking provision which forces the, generally less well off, non-car owners to subsidise parking provision for wealthier car owners.


As the expert witness at our committee meeting made clear, published research does not support the instinctive view that proportionate parking charges damage town centres. The more successful town centres actively discourage traffic and create cleaner, more pleasant town centre environments where people can shop safely. There is a clear trend towards this across the country and beyond. Where charges are introduced, evidence suggests that there may be a short-term reduction is usage but, over a relatively short period, this tends to recover.

In addition, car parking charges encourage the efficient use of parking spaces. As surveys consistently show, anxiety about the availability of parking is of more concern to most drivers than charges. It follows that free parking provision in our coastal areas leads to the inefficient use of parking spaces, heightens anxiety around availability and increases congestion and pollution as drivers search out free parking spaces. Far better to have a consistent charging regime with appropriate use of resident parking schemes should displacement create localised problems.

None of the above should detract in any way from some terrible planning decisions made by Wirral Council in the past. Permitting retail parks such as The Croft in Bromborough, where the council has no control over parking conditions, was always going to undermine our traditional town centres. This is now exacerbated by a seemingly endless stream of new supermarket permissions which further erode town centre viability.


Basic economics teaches us that raising the price of any good or service reduces demand. Introducing or increasing car parking charges will lead to lower demand and will cut car journeys. Some people will use alternatives – notably walking to local shops rather than driving or making use of their free bus pass. Others will use their car more efficiently and do a larger shop in one go rather than making multiple trips.

It follows that charges will result in lower emissions of carbon and also particulates that affect air quality. It is worth noting that the all-party committee on climate change estimates that, even with full electrification of road transport, we still need to reduce car miles travelled by 17% to meet our current (inadequate) carbon targets.

In summary, these changes are, I believe, a proportionate response to a financial crisis and will correct a long-standing socially regressive policy while at the same time helping the council to meet its health and environmental policies.