We all tumble down? Maintaining Britain’s car parks

Parking structures form a crucial part of our urban architecture. Here, Glenn Dives, Corporate and Public Affairs Officer for the British Parking Association, establishes the importance of car parks and outlines the ways in which they can be maintained

Car parks. Who loves car parks? If we are honest there are not many people working outside of the parking sector who would admit to liking car parks let alone loving them. They are seen to be there. We drive in, park up, pay, and then go about our business, before returning to our vehicle and leaving. We don’t think of the processes that go into designing, building or maintaining them.

Why would we after all? Car parks are not thought of as being vitally important to how we live our lives. As you would expect, the British Parking Association (BPA) think differently. Parking structures form a crucial part of our urban architecture, and, as such, good quality, well-designed and properly managed and maintained car parks are vital to our quality of life. Car parks, and the wider role of parking management plays a critical role in keeping our streets safe, free from obstruction, improving road safety and enabling services and deliveries to take place in high streets that would become congested if parking wasn't properly and effectively managed.

There are a range of organisations providing or operating parking facilities including local authorities and private operators, and landowners themselves. This happens, be it in town centres, business districts, healthcare or at transport hubs such as train stations and airports. Within these groups are a wide range of different car parks from single deck flat tops, through to multi-storey car parks. Within this range it is necessary to say that every car park is different, meaning that any guidance or advice on maintaining them can only be general.

However, there are several factors which can be considered regardless of the type of car park. These factors include: structural stability; maintaining the road surface; maintaining concrete; maintaining steel reinforcements (primarily in multi-story carparks); assessment of the structure following a crash; bay lines and other surface markings; parking architecture; ticket machines; ANPR/ CCTV cameras; barriers; de-icing (in persistent cold weather); and cleaning.

These are some of the factors which need to be considered in the maintenance programme for a car park. But why is it important? Well those responsible for providing or operating parking facilities have a duty of care to maintain them in a safe condition for those persons in or about it whether lawfully or otherwise. This duty of care stems from the legal requirements outlined under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984. Even without this legal responsibility, the operators/ owners recognise that they have a responsibility to ensure that their parking facilities are safe, properly serviced and maintained. It's a valuable asset after all that should be taken care of.

A proactive approach
Having now outlined some of the issues involved, both legal and practical, it is now time to consider how to approach that maintenance. These factors can be broken down into two groups: those which are reactive in nature and those which can be dealt with proactively. An example would be the assessment of the structure following a crash (this can only be completed following a crash). Correspondingly the maintenance of the concrete can be proactively managed by regular visits and inspections of the site. Now of course there is a degree of overlap in this, where some proactive measures end up being dealt with reactively. For example, inspecting the steel support and concrete following a crash into a concrete column, but as a rule addressing those issues ahead of time is considered best practice.  

It is this drive for standards which underpins the BPA’s work in this area. As such we facilitate a Parking Structures interest group which focuses upon structures and asset management. One of the group tasks is to develop best practice, promote planning. and answer questions fielded by the Association’s extensive membership. The BPA further work to support this by sharing best practice, and support schemes like Park Mark® and its ‘The Art of Safer Parking’ campaign. Russell Simmons, chair of the BPA Parking Structures group and director at Stripe Consulting, describes the work of maintaining car parks as being ‘similar to any structural asset in that they will degrade over time and need to be maintained. Once degradation starts it will only get harder to fix and more expensive to arrest the longer it is left, which is why the professionals will always advise you to adopt a life-care plan approach to maintaining the asset’.

So, what exactly are life-care plans? Put simply life-care plans are documents (or systems) which set out the arrangements for regular inspection of structures and continued dialog between the owner/operator and their engineers (in house or via consultants). The correct administration of a life-care plan (in line with Institute of Chartered Engineers (ICE), ISTructE and BPA guidelines) will ensure that the correct proactive and reactive actions are taken and are subject to continual review. ICE recently updated their recommendations, influenced by a strong input from the BPA including a forward from Kelvin Reynolds, the BPA’s director of Corporate and Public Affairs, and co-authored by Russell Simmons. The adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ lies at the heart of the process behind life-care plans. Maintaining the facility in good time will ensure that you get the best out of it for years. Ignoring it and hoping for the best will quickly lead to deterioration and degeneration becoming a drain on resources and, potentially subject to structural failure and early closure.

Having a proactive approach not only means that the car park looks its best but will ensure, that the structure remains safe for use (a legal obligation) and will remain serviceable. Neglecting the structure can, (and does in many cases) create risks, reduces quality, increases reactive spend and reduces the number of years that the car park can remain in service. Local authorities (among other owner/operators) have an obligation to ensure that the car park is being managed safely and cost effectively, and life-care plans are the most effective way of ensuring that this remains at the forefront of thought and planning.

The BPA wants to see more emphasis on life care planning for all car parks and appropriate funds set aside to ensure that they are properly serviced and maintained. Premature or unplanned closure of multi-storey car parks has a detrimental effect on the communities the car parks serve and works against the regeneration of town centres.

So, while car parks may not be the most loved structures on our high streets or town centres, they are amongst the most important. However, as we have seen there are significant costs associated with providing parking such as surfacing, fencing and cleaning. Where tariffs apply there is also a cost of collecting that charge. Someone, somewhere has to pay. Car parks require continual investment not only in money, but time. The BPA is passionate about promoting this to both our members and all stakeholders, to ensure that they receive the right amount of support and investment.  

Further Information: 

www.britishparking.co.uk