Last week, a Twitter debate raged (i.e., a few people commented for about an hour) about whether West End Lane needs more pay & display parking to encourage people from outside the area to come in to West Hampstead to shop/eat/drink, especially during the week. It’s a timely discussion, in light of Camden’s imminent parking review. Here’s how it went – more commentary after the tweets.
Afterwards, I asked André for some more background on the problem as he sees it.
“It took me years to recognise the problem, so I do see it from the locals’ point of view: the idea of more traffic, more pollution, harder for locals to park etc. I empathise with and experience that myself.
But 20 or so extra pay & displays (that exclude residents permits) would make little difference to those issues – in fact, maybe less traffic as people wouldn’t be circling for hours. But it would make a positive difference to retailers.”
At the recent West Hampstead business forum meetings that have started, it’s been a strongly voiced concern. Weekends in West Hampstead are generally busy and profitable, but weekdays can be a struggle. It’s true that the area has a high number of self-employed and home workers, but they’re not hanging out in cafés all day (unless it’s to have a cappuccino while they use the Wifi) and aside from lunchtime, it’s not that busy around the area, especially at the northern end of West End Lane away from the transport hub.
|Click for full-size. NB: predates new Thameslink station on Iverson Rd
He says that customers tell him and other local business owners that they hesitate to come during the day because they can’t park. “This is one big fat feedback message that echoes around West Hampstead every day.”
“I had a meeting last week around midday, the guy called to say he’d been circling for 45 minutes and could we postpone… and he wanted to sell me something! Customers aren’t that determined. In fact, we’ve lost valued suppliers because they decided parking’s too difficult.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that the people who proclaim to support independent businesses are also those who tend to be anti-car. So how do we reconcile that? People want more people to use our local businesses so they stay, but they don’t want more traffic – either locally or even generally. West Hampstead is, of course, amazingly well connected by public transport so the arguments of those who say enough people can come in to the area that way are valid. But are they realistic? If you live further out on the Jubilee or Met lines, or along the Overground routes, do you know much about West Hampstead – would you come in and meet your friends for lunch here, or pop into the bookshop rather than going somewhere else nearer and more convenient?
Perhaps there’s an argument for targeted marketing. Lets say Camden agreed that footfall was low in some parts of the area, perhaps they could split the relevant budget between pay & display parking and funding marketing for the area in very specific places along the transport corridors so we try and boost footfall but do so using public transport. Certainly any pay & display parking would have to have restrictions that meant it matched the need without encouraging excessive car use when it wasn’t needed – at weekends for example when there’s enough footfall in West End Lane already.
There is one very different perspective: keep the cars away and footfall low and the large chains will start to lose interest/move out, which could bring rents down and make local busineses more viable. But that’s a long-term game, and at odds with the fact that West Hampstead is destined for a large increase in population over the next 10 years.
What do you think? Is there a problem at all? Is a small amount of extra parking going to make much difference? Is it worth trying to lure the residents of Elstree & Borehamwood, or Stanmore, or Acton onto the tubes and trains to visit West Hampstead? Perhaps businesses should behave very differently on weekdays and weekends to maintain profitability?