In the midst of a global pandemic that has crippled many industries, it might not seem the most obvious time for local authorities to consider introducing a new charge for business parking. However, the workplace parking levy (WPL) is a flexible transport and fiscal policy tool that could meet the changing demands and priorities of local authorities who are planning for post-pandemic life.
The current crisis has done two things that have affected the way in which the WPL should be viewed. Firstly, the economic impact of CV19 will be felt for years to come and local authorities will need to ensure sustainable budgets to deliver a wide range of existing and new services as we build back better. Secondly, we have seen how working from home en masse can have a significant impact on air quality and carbon emissions.
A WPL is a charge that a local authority can place on private business commuter parking to both manage peak time traffic congestion and generate revenue for transport investment. The one scheme up and running at present is in Nottingham. It is generally hailed as being a huge success, allowing the city to deliver an impressive sustainable transport infrastructure. The scheme is also setting the scene for Nottingham to become the UK’s first net zero city.
The Nottingham scheme has been operational for many years prior to the pandemic. Despite the fact that it took a long time in the planning stages, which is not surprising given that it was the first in the UK, this WPL is now a mature and stable operation. Unlike other road user charging schemes that require expensive ANPR camera technology, the WPL is not significantly different from local authority on-street parking operations with annual permits backed up by traditional enforcement.
Importantly, the Nottingham WPL has been able to flex with the changing working practices resulting from the pandemic. As it is a charge on parking spaces occupied, the increased emphasis on working from home has meant that fewer people are driving to work. This has reduced the liability of businesses to pay the levy.
Nottingham’s scheme has become a poster boy for economic road user charging and is currently being studied by local authorities nationwide and beyond. Organisations are choosing to locate in the city due to their sustainable and environmental credentials despite the additional parking charge which they can pass onto their staff if they wish.
One of the city regions considering the introduction of a WPL is Leicester. As part of its new Local Transport Plan, the council will be consulting on such a scheme. Early engagement is already underway as is technical work with WPL experts and local academic institutions. Investment priorities have been established across the city and air quality improvement and climate change will be a key focus.
This is a different approach to Nottingham’s and shows the adaptability of such schemes to different and evolving policy agendas.
CV19 may have slowed Leicester down but a WPL plays a key role in the city’s recovery plans and transformation agenda. The current prediction is that the WPL could be operational by early 2023.
The London Borough of Hounslow is also evaluating a WPL. Here, the council’s approach showcases the flexibility of WPLs by using them to target specific local challenges. In this instance, it would cover only a small Opportunity Area on the Great West Corridor which has poor public transport accessibility. The plan is to invest in rail infrastructure linking the area to the Elizabeth Line and HS2. Work started in Hounslow long before the start of the pandemic, but it has allowed the council to refocus the benefits of the scheme to align with current and predicted challenges and priorities.
The shift of the commute to more sustainable modes will generate significant air quality benefits through investment in public transport and active travel. This will accommodate the changing travel behaviour of people who want to avoid paying the WPL that is passed on to them by their employers. The improvements in air quality will also be enhanced by organisations that remove car parking and reallocate the spaces to other uses.
The case for WPLs was strong even before the pandemic. Their economic, environmental, and social case is even greater now with a focus on CV19 recovery.
About the author – Nick Ruxton-Boyle is Director of Environment at Marston Holdings and leads the company’s local authority road user charging portfolio. He is a transport planner with over 20 years’ experience in the design and delivery of sustainable transport policies and technology solutions for the public and private sectors.
For further information please visit – www.marstonholdings.co.uk/airquality
This article first appeared in the Air Quality News magazine which is available to view here.