A new analysis from the Green Party shows the extent of space lost to car parking in Southend town centre.
Over the past few months, the council and residents have been embroiled in an unproductive debate over car parking in Southend town centre, the associated parking charges, and what impact this will have on the town’s businesses as we recover from the COVID pandemic.
As the town’s large seafront businesses lobby the council for increasingly lowered car parking rates and the under-pressure council eyes up more locations for new and larger car parks, new insight from the Green Party suggests the obvious solutions no-one is talking about.
No large town in the world has ever solved its congestion problems by building new roads.
Southend is no different from any of the other Victorian-era seaside towns across the UK in our challenges with congestion and parking. Towns like ours were constructed years before cars were even considered integral in town planning, and as a result, every summer our town centre is swamped with handling the many thousands of tourists that visit by car, causing innumerable issues for locals.
Currently, a significant majority of these visitors travel here in their own cars, adding to the town’s already chronic issues of congestion, toxic air pollution, and residential streets jam-packed bumper-to-bumper with cars.
Naturally, these recurring issues cause a great amount of frustration for the town’s residents, and in return, the council continually makes rushed decisions on town planning as short-term ‘fixes’ for these issues.
Previous twentieth-century suggestions to these issues involved progressively extreme road widening schemes, the loss of our green spaces to ever-larger car parks, retail parks, and roads, and the permanent dedication of vast swathes of our town to simply storing parked cars.
Despite these extreme measures, Southend still has inadequate town centre parking at peak times, a year-round shortage of on-street parking, and still suffers from the same issues the council aimed to fix in the first place.
With the recent news that the council is again considering “sunset ideas” of road widening and new car parks to tackle the issues, we remind residents that these proposals will not work, because these kinds of schemes never have.
New research from the South East Essex Green Party published today visualises how much of our town centre is lost to just parking cars.
Vast amounts of land in the town centre that could be made into affordable housing or green spaces for residents to enjoy is instead devoted to storing cars, and 20-30% of the urban road space throughout the town is lost to roadside car parking. A huge amount of the public realm is dedicated to cars, and it has resulted in streets designed not for residents, but for motorists. This has had fatal consequences.
None of the council’s previous traffic-alleviation measures has worked.
That’s because the council continues to fail to account for Induced Demand in town planning, and is failing to listen to climate science telling us we must urgently transition to low-impact travel options.
Induced demand shows that car traffic increases proportionally with increased road capacity. In other words, the easier you make it for people to travel by car, the more people will choose car travel as their main travel option, adding to the problems. Roads are made ever-wider to accommodate more cars, and in turn, the wider roads lead to more cars being bought and used.
This concept is also key to understanding the issue in the provision of parking in Southend. The more space that is found and devoted to parking for cars, the more people will travel here by car in the knowledge there’s a parking space for them when they arrive. If the council signals to tourists that our town is only car-accessible, the more we will struggle with congestion and air pollution when those tourists arrive by car. Governmental policy and our own town planning for the last 60 years have worked on the assumption that people will only travel if they can do so by car. This is fundamentally untrue.
To illustrate this, a tiny proportion of visitors to London travel by car because of the traffic, the lack of parking spaces, and the high parking charges. That doesn’t stop people from visiting London however, with most people still commuting and visiting just as often, but instead opting to go via train, a considerably lower impact travel alternative.
If we’re to tackle the many serious issues in Southend caused by excessive motorists, then we must stop designing the town treating car travel as the default.
Without a change in direction now, this problem will continue to worsen.
THE GREEN SOLUTION
To quote Field of Dreams; “You build it, and they will come.”
In the last century, we’ve reshaped our whole town around car use so it’s understandable why the unimaginative amongst us can’t see any other option. But if we’ve reshaped our town before, it can be done again.
As we recover from the COVID pandemic, we have a perfect opportunity to reimagine our streets, and radically reshape how we want people to visit and travel across the borough. In light of the climate emergency, a greater emphasis needs to be made on enabling greener travel options for every resident through sustainable town infrastructure design.
The first task at hand is to simply acknowledge that no town can facilitate an endlessly growing number of motorists. Currently, town planning assumes car travel is the default for every resident, and this has led to chronic underfunding of other travel alternatives. No wonder why a majority of residents travel across town by car currently, when the other alternatives are an expensive and unreliable bus network and a disjointed and unsafe cycle network.
We need an urgent reevaluation of who our streets are designed for.
Innovative schemes such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and ‘Mini Holland’ style traffic restrictions would reduce the rat-running commonplace throughout the town, and a borough-wide Low Emission Zone would target the dirtiest vehicles on our streets to tackle toxic air pollution.
The adoption of a 15-Minute City approach to town planning would also reshape how far residents need to travel to meet their daily needs. If a majority of a person’s needs can be met within a 20-minute walk or cycle, how many people would need to use a car daily at all? Ipswich has already committed to pushing ahead with such a 15-Minute City scheme and has announced a major investment into making services and quality of life accessible within the space of a short walk from the home of every resident, cutting down unnecessary journeys that would have been done by car. This can be achieved in Southend.
We should be aiming for greater diversification of transit options for Southend’s residents, and that begins with putting the required infrastructure in place first.
The creation of new safe cycle routes needs to be an immediate priority, and must functionally connect the town in a modern road design that prioritises bus and cycle users over car travel. New active transit corridors should be implemented for east/west travel, and fully-lit and CCTV-monitored safe cycle storage facilities should be installed at every appropriate location.
There’s already more than enough room on our streets for new segregated safe cycle lanes; and on most roads in Southend, this can be achieved without entirely removing existing on-street car parking. Many neighbourhoods of Paris and Copenhagen have parking layouts where parked cars are used as a barrier between cyclists and moving traffic, which in turn forces vehicles to travel more slowly, bettering road safety for pedestrians. Such “woonerfs” schemes already exist in Amsterdam and could be adopted in Southend.
To facilitate the new online order economy, we can also introduce cargo-bike delivery hubs across the borough, allowing for greener transportation of goods and services. These cargo bikes, in turn, would use the new cycle lanes, alleviating our roads of more delivery van traffic.
We need a new and ambitious Integrated Transport Plan, increasing the provision, reliability and affordability of Public Transport services. We need a significant improvement in the frequency, accessibility, number of routes, and overall reliability of bus infrastructure across the borough. We also need to introduce new night bus services across the town and improve the frequency and reliability of weekend bus services too.
The greenest travel option should always be the cheapest and most convenient option if we’re to encourage people out of their cars.
Bold action should be taken to make town centre shopping districts pedestrianised and car-free. Following an Oslo model, begin to replace on-street vehicle parking spaces with space for climate-resilient urban greening, parklets, and cycle parking.
And as for the many seasonal visitors; as a town with a significant tourist economy, we need to make taking the bus or train more convenient, cheaper, and more accessible than travelling here by car. Following the success of a new sustainable transport system for the town, redundant surface car parks can be developed into spaces that benefit locals; such as affordable housing, service provision, and parks. The car parking spaces that remain can be used to tackle the inadequate electric car-charging facilities that exist currently. Install and offer free electric vehicle charging points in all remaining car parks and see how quickly Southend becomes an eco-tourism hotspot and benefits from the many new visitors.
THE GREEN VIEW
It is evident from experience that only the Green Party can be trusted to deliver the radical measures needed to solve our traffic nightmares and to implement a financially and environmentally responsible solution that works in everyone’s interests, delivering the much-needed investment in low-carbon transport infrastructure our town needs.
We commit to completely overhauling our patchy and unreliable bus networks through greater partnership with the borough’s bus operators, and we will deliver unprecedented investment into cycling infrastructure, with new routes and street furniture, allowing for the swift and clean cross-town transit that our residents deserve.
We will additionally aid our town’s taxi fleet to modernise, investigating council-backed grants for local taxi firms to invest in new green electric vehicles, giving town-centre priority to electric taxis with newly designated ranks, and by additionally making disability awareness training mandatory for our town’s taxi drivers.
This is of course only a small insight into the many significant improvements that could be made to Southend. We have a clear opportunity to make Southend an area fit for the future, and we genuinely believe that our Manifesto is the most rational, most effective, and most responsible roadmap to becoming the pioneering community we all know it can be. Like Brighton, with the kind of dedication and ambition the Greens are known for, seaside towns like ours can become global leaders.
Meeting the ever-changing needs of our community is a task made more difficult by having a Local Authority without sufficient vision or determination to make the necessary changes to take us forward.
When elected, we will bring about a major shift in the direction of our town, and we will deliver the biggest change in council priorities in a century.
You can read our full range of ideas on Sustainable Infrastructure & Better Transport in Our Manifesto.
Further Reading & Sources:
Department for Transport, dataset TSGB0106: People entering central London during the morning peak, since 1996 (Download: 14.5KB)