Since August 2007 Kent County Council has been undertaking surveys of new housing schemes in the county. The data, which has been made available to us, includes 402 housing schemes on 315 separate estates (some of which are made up of multiple phases which are treated as separate schemes)1. This data represents a large proportion of housing schemes developed in the county in the last 10 years. They were surveyed once they were completed and substantially occupied. The data produced includes the number of parking spaces provided for each property (as reported by the occupants), the number of cars owned by each household and the level of satisfaction with parking as an issue. This valuable resource has enabled us to test some of the issues raised in the previous chapter.
The data covers the 12 districts within the Kent County Council area (excluding Medway which is a unitary authority). These range from Dartford on the edge of London through the leafy commuter belts of Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, and the free-standing towns of Canterbury and Ashford to the coast at Shepway and Dover. This is clearly a diverse range of places. Five schemes within the database have less than 0.5 cars per unit – probably flats in central locations – while at the other end of the spectrum there are 19 schemes with an average car ownership of more than 2 cars a unit.
The first question that the data allows us to address is the level of car ownership and the accuracy of the figures derived from the 2001 census described in the last chapter. The average car ownership across the whole sample of schemes in Kent is 1.47 cars per household. This is broken down by district in the table below ranging from an average of 1.57 cars per household in Shepway to 1.26 in Gravesham. It is difficult to see any real pattern in terms of accessibility, distance from London and affluence in these figures. However they are all substantially higher that the 1.1 cars per household derived from the 2001 Census data described above.
The data from Kent does include the average number of bedrooms per property on each scheme and we have created a rough estimate of habitable rooms by doubling this figure (in order to align the Kent data to the census data -which is based on habitable rooms). This is shown in Figure 4 as a comparison with the 2001 census figures from Figure 2. What it shows is that the car ownership figures for new property in Kent are similar to the 2001 census figures for the smallest and largest properties but are significantly higher for mid sized properties.
The schemes with an average of 4-6 habitable rooms (which equates to 2 and 3 bedroom homes) make up 66% of the schemes in the sample. These have car ownership levels which are 0.25 cars per household above the census figures, with a parking ratio of 142%. There are probably a number of reasons for this. Car ownership levels have risen since 2001 and the situation in Kent in terms of the availability of public transport and the local demographics will be different. It is also possible that the purchasers of new housing have different levels of car ownership to the general population. It is possible that they are younger households with two earners needing to commute some distance to work.
The Kent data details the parking provision for each of the schemes as set out in Figure 5 below. This shows that the average parking provision across the 402 schemes is 2.12 spaces per unit (or 212%). 17 schemes have more than 400% parking and 24 have less than 100%. Only a quarter of schemes have a parking ratio below the 150% suggested by government policy until recently while 55% fall into the 150-300% range.
The table also shows the equivalent average car ownership figures from Figure 3. This shows that the average level of parking provision of 2.12 spaces per unit is significantly above the average car ownership figure of 1.47 cars per unit. Indeed in all of the districts there is an apparent surplus of parking in excess of the 20% extra normally provided for visitors. In Canterbuy and Shepway it would appear from these raw figures that there is an unused parking space for every unit.
Throughout all of the schemes there are only 56 schemes (14%) where the number of cars owned per unit exceeds the parking spaces provided per unit. Only 13 of these underprovided schemes have parking ratios greater than 150%. By contrast there are another 53 schemes with parking ratios below 150% which have a parking surplus even if it is only 0.15 cars/unit.
This data seems to suggest that there is an overprovision of parking in Kent. It is therefore strange that people are so unhappy about the issue. The data includes the responses to surveys undertaken of residents of the estates some time after they had moved in. In these surveys the residents were asked to rank their level of satisfaction with the scheme based on four issues; the safety of the scheme, its attractiveness, happiness and parking.
The results as shown in Figure 6 are striking. In 54% percent of schemes surveyed, the average resident rating of their level of satisfaction with the parking situation of the estate was ‘Very unhappy’. Yet 60% of the responses were ‘Very Happy’ with the attractiveness of the estate with only a few less giving the same rating for friendliness. Figure 7 shows the overall level of satisfaction across the 12 districts and highlights the stark difference between satisfaction with parking and other issues. While dissatisfaction with parking does drag down the overall level of satisfaction with the estate, the survey responses suggest that people will put up with parking problems if they are very happy with other aspects of the estate.
We therefore need to understand why an apparent surplus of parking on most estates exists alongside such a high level of dissatisfaction. The answer lies in the issue first highlighted in the 1977 version of DB32. This pointed out that if parking on an estate was entirely unallocated then the total number of parking spaces would only need to match the needs of the residents. On the other hand if all the parking was allocated then each house would need to have sufficient parking to accommodate the maximum possible rather than the average needs of its residents. The figures quoted above relate entirely to allocated off-street parking and the reason for the high level of dissatisfaction relate to the inefficiency of use.
The first problem is that different households have different needs. As Figure 8 shows, a proportion of households in all areas don’t have a car. This is between 5 and 10% in all of the districts. These households may be in the social housing elements of the scheme or perhaps are elderly people. The problem is that the spaces allocated to these units are not used and are not available to other households
At the other end of the spectrum Figure 8 shows the number of households with 2 or more cars. For all but three of the areas this averaged between 40 and 50%. In households that don’t feel that they have access to convenient public transport and where both partners work, two cars are unavoidable. As we shall see from the focus groups, at a time when young people are struggling to get a house of their own, it is not unusual to have households with adult offspring living at home, also needing their own car. In estates where most spaces are allocated there is nowhere for these surplus cars to go which is when tensions start to arise.
The other issues that comes out of the figures regarding the efficiency of parking use is the garage. Figure 9 shows that overall 28% of parking spaces are provided in garages although in some areas virtually every house (as opposed to flats) has a garage. If you take these garage spaces off the total provision then the parking surplus largely disappears and indeed becomes a parking deficit in four of the districts shown in Figure 9.
This is important because many people don’t use their garage even when they are struggling for somewhere to park. Research in Dorset suggested that only 50% of residents use their allocated parking garages for car parking2 and our own survey work described in Chapter 5 suggests an even lower figure of 40%. The Kent data is a little harder to interpret because residents were asked how regularly they use their garage for parking and the results turned into a percentage of plus or minus 100. Nevertheless it is clear that the level of garage use is relatively low. There are a number of reasons for this. In our subsequent survey work (detailed in Chapter 3) residents complained that the garages were too small for modern cars, which in any case no longer need to be garaged in order to start on a frosty morning. Some modern houses also lack storage space or bike parking and the garage gets pressed into service making it unavailable for the car.
The Kent data does allow us to test one of the assumptions behind parking policy in recent years, namely that reducing car parking spaces is associated with a reduction in the level of car ownership. Figure 10 plots the relationship between the level of parking provision and the level of car ownership for all 402 of the units surveyed in Kent. There clearly is a rough correlation between parking levels and car ownership.
This however doesn’t tell us very much about cause and effect. There is also likely to be a correlation with the size of the house, the size and nature of the household, the location of the estate etc. The Kent data allows us to control the size of the house, so that Figure 11 is plotted from the 129 estates where the average number of bedrooms is between three and four. This again shows a very rough correlation but also significant variations; there are estates with twice as much parking but the same level of car ownership. This bears out the conclusion that we come to in the following chapters, that the restriction of parking is a very inefficient tool to reduce levels of car ownership.
The data from Kent provides a valuable insight into the parking situation in the county. It is important to remember that there are a huge variety of schemes in the survey and that the averages that we have used in this chapter can only tell us so much about the situation on the ground. However it would appear that in overall terms the level of parking provided in Kent at 212% has been higher than the 150% recommended in government guidance and also higher than the 147% average level of car ownership across all of the schemes. Yet it is clear that despite this apparent surplus there are huge parking tensions in the new housing schemes covered.
This is partly the result of an inability to accommodate households with different car ownership levels and partly because the garages that make up over a quarter of provision are used very inefficiently. These inefficiencies largely cancel out the apparent surplus, which accounts for the problems even on the estates that exceed 150% parking provision and make up three quarters of the schemes surveyed.
In order to understand what these issues mean on the ground we go on to look at six case study estates in the next three chapters. These were selected from the data as places that had been built in line with policy and where the survey work had identified particular parking tensions.
* This is not the percentage of people who use their garage. The survey asked whether people used their garage for parking all the time, regularly, rarely or not at all. +100 would mean everyone uses their garage all the time, -100 that they never did.
1 Data made available by Bob White at Kent County Council, representing every housing scheme in the county since 2007. The original data set has been stripped of any scheme with incomplete data which has removed around 60 schemes.