Harrogate's supermarket car parks

Written by Ian Summersgill on 02 November 2012.

Ian Summersgill of Chartered Building Surveyors – Linchpin Ltd takes a look at consumer habits such as the weekly bulk shop at your local supermarket are hard to change, and despite the governmen’s current initiative to promote walking, cycling and public transport, the car remains fundamental to the food retailers current business model.

The majority of us go to do our weekly shop in the family car, and the ability to park that car in the supermarket car park , access and egress easily, and load up the shopping is a basic expectation.

However, more and more cars are being damaged whilst parking, or left parked, in these car parks (notice all the disclaimer signs where the supermarkets accepts no responsibility for loss or damage), and you almost need to be a limbo dancer sometimes to physically get out of the car door.

And we won't mention how difficult it is to reverse out of a car parking space, voiding other oncoming cars, trollies, and pedestrians. It almost warrants a separate driving test in its own right.

Harrogates supermarket car parks

So what is the problem.

Well for a start, the design of the car park in a retail scheme is often left to the end of the design process and often represents a compromise following the siting of the building itself, delivery access and the main access routes to the site. The supermarket will want to maximise the number of spaces available subject to the maximum number allowed under parking standards, and parking bay dimensions and the location and width of circulation routes will be adapted to suit. No two car parks are identical, and of the many thousand car parks in the UK all will differ in car park bay dimensions, circulation routes, turning circles etc. Some will prove to be extremely user friendly, others less so. The fact is that recommended guidelines and dimensions for the design of car parks are exactly that…recommendations.

Recommended dimensions for square (or 90 degrees) parking is 4.8m x 2.4m parking bays, with circulation roads (aisles) of 6.0m for one way traffic and 7.0m for two way traffic.

In addition to the above:-

1) We and our cars, are all slightly bigger now than when we first introduced the standard 4.8m x 2.4m car parking bay, and the width of a car parking bay is simply no longer wide enough.

2) The circulation routes, referred to as ailse widths, are often too narrow (recommended width of 6.0m for one way flow and 7.0m for two way flow)

3) Designers often fail to remember the golden rule of "Keep it Simple" when designing car parks, and fail to provide a "User Friendly" car park.

4) With reference to above, signage and directions at both road and eye level can either be limited or confusing

5) Space for parking is often at a premium and the supermarkets want to maximise they number of car parking spaces that can provide on the site, even when the design results in tighter car parking spaces and circulation than recommended. (In this respect they tend to follow Planning policy Guidance (PPG13) which sets the maximum number of car parking spaces at 1 space per 14 sq m of gross floor space)

Whilst all the above can have a contributing factor in the user-friendly nature of a car park, it is fairly obvious to anybody that has legitimately parked in a disabled or family space in a supermarket that the biggest problem is in the width of the parking bay and that the old standard width of 2.4m is no longer appropriate.

It is therefore gratifying to note that certain authorities are beginning to recognise this and are adapting their parking standards design to accommodate wider spaces that are easier to enter and exit.

Essex County Council for example recently adopted a new Parking Standards Design and Good Practice Supelimentary Planning document (Adopted Dec 2010) that states the Preferred bay size for cars as 5.5m x 2.9m (as against the current 4.8m x 2.4m) with a minimum bay size of 5.0m x 2.5 m(which should only be used in exceptional circumstances). They go on to say that "principally the preferred bay size should be used. Any smaller than the above and an occupant might be unable to get in or out of an average sized family car, parked in the bay with cars parked adjacent ,and consequently bay sizes smaller than the minimum stated will not be considered useable parking space."

Having visited the four major supermarkets in town, my space at Asda measured the full 2.4m (centre of white line to white line), Morrison's slightly less at 2.39m, Sainsbury's 2.38m and Waitrose a miserable 2.32m.

I have to say, I managed to park my large 4x4 in all four spaces after a little bit of manoeuvring, deep inward breathe, and a crab type walk to the circulation road. But I'm a relatively healthy bloke of slim build with no family in tow, and my wits about me.

It is not difficult to imagine how difficult it must be for the elderly , people with restricted movement, and mothers with children to park in such restricted spaces. Indeed it is something we all see and accommodate every time we do our weekly shop.

Clearly, an element of this has already been accommodated through the incorporation of some limited family and disables spaces in most supermarket car parks. However that doesn't improve things for the majority of motorists.

Hopefully all authorities will start to adopt the larger sized bay of 5.5m x 2.9m in the future, as I am sure shoppers would rather sacrifice a small reduction in the overall number of "tight spaces" on site, for spaces that we can easily manoeuvre in and out of.

However, and as a final consideration, lets not forget that planning authorities are obliged to encourage patterns of development which reduce the need to travel by car in the future, i.e. alternative access by foot, bicycle, and public transport. With this in mind perhaps we should learn to love and value our little car parking spaces, while they still exist.

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