Post-COVID 19 lockdown, Colchester Borough Council faced reduced use of its long-stay car parks and pressure for increased pedestrian and cycle access to the town centre. The solution was to enable a Park Active site for Colchester to encourage motorists to park in peripheral car parks more often and actively complete their journeys by walking or cycling. The approach is part of a national pilot programme being led by the BPA and supported by the UK Government.
Post-COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, experienced a reduction in motorists using peripheral, long-stay car parks. At the same time, there was a pressure to increase active travel into and around Colchester’s narrow streets to help reopen the town centre safely and sustain local businesses.
The solution developed by Colchester Borough Council was to combine the issues of changing parking demand and the increased appetite for active travel through walking and cycling, by creating ‘Park Active for Colchester’. The central idea for Park Active is simple: to encourage motorists to park in more peripheral car parks and to actively complete the remainder of their journey by walking or cycling, thereby reducing congestion, bringing down pollution and enabling healthier communities for the benefit of all.
The borough council worked with the North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) who are responsible for managing the town’s parking provision. Together, they worked closely with the BPA to become the first pilot town to enable the national Park Active initiative and its branding.
As part of its newly agreed Positive Parking Strategy, Colchester Borough Council was able to help develop and test the delivery of the Park Active approach nationally. The BPA aims for the initiative nationally were in-tune with Colchester’s short-term needs and longer-term aspirations. These included:
- encouraging people to use peripheral parking sites that are cheaper and more accessible
- encouraging more active travel options such as cycling and walking to reach their destination
- helping reduce traffic and freeing up central parking for short-stay shoppers and blue badge holders
- helping reduce congestion and improving air quality in town and city centres.
- providing more space for social distancing and freedom of movement
The Borough Council identified three car parks that it felt best served such aims. These were all currently under-utilised long-stay car parks situated around a 5-10-minute walk from the town centre. Each car park is on the opposite side of town from the existing park and ride site, with potential to service cross-town routes to the train station and hospital. One of the car parks is close to the location of new cycle routes linking to different parts of the town centre.
Practical hurdles that the Borough Council and the North Essex Parking Partnership have had to overcome included raising awareness of Park Active sites through branded communications and bespoke signage to and from the car parks. These have been aided by the parallel development of national operational and brand guidance provided by the BPA. For example, dedicated directional signage for pedestrians and cyclists indicate expected journey times along safe routes to the town centre.
Motorists need to sign-up to the MiPermit mobile payments system to use Park Active for Colchester and agree to the terms and conditions, that include receiving marketing notifications. In return, they receive a discounted parking fee of just £0.50 per hour, for up to 4 hours, throughout the week. They can then cycle or walk the rest of their journey.
By requiring motorists to sign-up to the Park Active initiative, including mobile payment methods, the Parking Partnership and borough council can monitor usage. They will also be able to interact with customers by promoting the scheme’s evolving benefits and undertaking market research on users’ perceptions and priorities.
It is envisaged that the scheme is helping boost revenues from underutilised car parks during the pandemic, whilst supporting the safe return of shoppers to the town centre. Data on car parking usage and revenue generated from the scheme will enable its financial viability to be monitored and evaluated and adjustments to be made as necessary when travel habits change as part of COVID-19 recovery.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Potential future innovations to add value to the ‘Park Active for Colchester’ scheme include the provision of secure cycle parking to assist regular users, and the introduction of e-cargo bikes to help in transporting shopping from the town centre. The ability to interact with parking customers also provides the potential for cross-marketing with town centre businesses and events.
Essex County Council has now submitted an ambitious bid for further Government Emergency Active Travel funding to the Department for Transport that can potentially boost the long-term success of the ‘Park Active for Colchester’ scheme. The proposals build on recent experience gained from the emergency Safer, Greener, Healthier measures in several towns across Essex and the previously published Essex Cycling.
Specifically for Colchester, the proposal is to create two segregated cycle routes including one going South-North from one of the Park Active sites. Both routes will involve the adoption of School Streets, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20 mph speed limits as part of longer-term support for active travel.
Colchester Borough Council and the North Essex Parking Partnership are leading members of the BPA’s Park Active pilot programme and stakeholder network. This includes nine other pilot cities and towns from across England that are taking part in the programme to demonstrate the feasibility of Park Active and supported by government as part of the Department of Transport’s Gear Change strategy to promote increased walking and cycling. The aim is that the pilot programme will result in a national framework and guidance to enable the implementation of Park Active sites in other locations.
Richard Walker, Parking Partnership Group Manager, North Essex Parking Partnership.
Telephone: 01206 282708
Links to relevant documents
You can register find out more about Park Active and potentially get involved through the BPA at www.park-active.co.uk
This case study is part of a series on COVID-19 recovery prepared as part of the LGA’s updated revitalising town centres toolkit. This includes wider good practice on town centre travel, parking and access and the tracking of national trends provided by the People & Places Partnership.