‘Why is York even considering building more car parks?’

Put the cars underground – or keep them away from Clifford's Tower altogether? Photograph: Emily Dunn

One of the best things about living in York is that there’s no need to drive or own a car.

We have an affordable, frequent bus service which reaches out like the spokes of a wheel to all corners of the city, including six Park and Ride routes connecting the city centre to the outer ring road.

And it’s a cyclist’s paradise. Mile upon mile of flat, smooth off-road cycle paths and on road cycle lanes. Bike racks around every corner and outside all the main food shops.

Countless scenic routes to explore in your free time.

For most residents and visitors, there is absolutely no need to bring a car into the city centre.

In exceptional circumstances when that’s necessary (maybe you’ve bought something that can’t be transported home any other way, or you’re a school group visiting York and it would be simpler to take your coach right into the centre) there are already numerous car parks around the perimeter of the city walls.

So why is City of York Council proposing that we create new car parks?

More cars in the city

As part of a major redevelopment of the “Southern Gateway” of the city centre, councillors are to consider whether to create an underground car park beneath the one which surrounds Clifford’s Tower like the moat that used to defend it.

The option of a multi-storey car park on Piccadilly is also being considered.

These proposals will be presented to councillors at a public meeting to be held on Thursday (October 29).

It’s hoped that these plans will ensure car parking is of “a suitable scale, quality and location and satisfies future parking requirements for the city centre,” states a council report:

High level engineering feasibility work has been undertaken which suggests that a basement car park under the existing surface Castle car park is technically achievable.

Further work needs to be done to explore detailed costs and archaeological implications before this can be brought forward as a formal proposal.

Fortunately improved accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians is also a priority, but it appears ironic that the council aims to both “improve quality of car parking provision and promote the use of sustainable modes of transport”.

Leaving aside the separate issues of creating an underground space beneath an internationally significant historical monument, the proposed new car park will not improve access to the city centre.

It will not relieve congestion.

It will not necessarily lead to more available parking spaces.

The more parking spaces there are, the more people will be encouraged to drive into the centre. Traffic on the inner ring road would increase, making access to the city more difficult and dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.

Better ways to raise cash

An aerial view of the problem. Photograph © Bing maps
An aerial view of the problem. Photograph © Bing maps

The council’s report implies an intention for the new car park to replace the current one above ground, which the planners say “sits in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower and is an inappropriate setting for such a significant historic monument.”

But removing the car park altogether would be a better option than replacing it. Other car parks, such as St George’s Field, have been described as having “low occupancy rates” in the report; there will still be plenty of space to leave your car.

But if it makes it more difficult to park, discouraging driving to the city centre, that can only be a good thing.

“It is one of the busiest car parks in the city and creates an essential income stream for CYC,” the report argues. By contrast the cost of the proposed basement car park will be an estimated £185,000.

Will the increased income from use of the car park make the expense worthwhile? Perhaps.

But car parking revenue is not the only source of income for the council. They should not choose to rely so heavily on a system that promotes traffic congestion and pollution, and causes irreparable damage to the landscape of our city.

Exact plans will not become clear until after the meeting. And anyway a “comprehensive car parking review” is needed first.

But while we’ve got this chance to have our say, we should consider the wider implications before it’s too late.