Car parking is like holiday entitlement. You can always find people who will tell you they don’t have enough, but few will admit they have more than they can use (even though many of us don’t take off every day we could).

This is mirrored in data compiled by Kent County Council from 402 new-build developments built in the recent era. It identifies that most have a surplus of car parking, with schemes in Canterbury and Shepway having one unused space for every home. Less than 1 in 7 schemes have more cars than bays provided.

So if Kent’s raw data suggests more than 6 in 7 schemes are NOT under supplied, why did most respondents (54%) tell Kent that they were ‘very unhappy’ with their allocation? These people have no other axe to grind  – 80% said they ‘very happy’ with the design of their development. This contradiction is the starting point for ‘Space to Park’ which took the Kent’ data and revisited 8 developments to interview residents.

This is where the holiday analogy is useful. People tend to complain most when they are obliged to take their holidays at ‘the wrong time’, when it doesn’t suit them. A similar mismatch leads to parking’s problems with people being allocated bays that are not convenient to use. The 2006 English Partnerships/ Design for Homes publication “Car Parking: What Works Where” highlighted how inflexible solutions frustrated residents. Poundbury, the model urban extension to Dorchester under the Prince of Wales’ patronage, successfully liberated development from standardised highways. However, it introduced a fashion for recreating the intimate street dimensions of historic villages and market towns, delivered with narrow carriageways and remote parking in rear access courts. When these are the only opportunities to park, residents respond by parking their cars on pavements to front of homes and chaos follows. The same story can be found in this report.

Space to Park shows that we need to be more responsive to the size of homes being delivered. However, predicting who will buy homes and how many cars they will own is guesswork, as Kent’s data highlights. Relying on the use of the garage for parking rather than storage is also fanciful. One solution proposed is to make shared spaces such as the street more able to accommodate parking.  More and more new schemes are adding this as a flexible reserve to their parking strategy. Hopefully research in a few years will tell us whether flexible capacity can calm the anger that relying on garages and rear courts provokes.

David Birkbeck
Design for Homes, 28/11/2013