Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Car Parks: All You Need Is Space

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Car Parks: All You Need Is Space

Article excerpt

The multistorey car park in the centre of Gateshead designed by Owen Luder in the 1960s and now under threat of demolition didn't feature in the BBC's latest Restoration series. Although it has dedicated admirers fighting for its survival, they are fans not of its stark lines and untreated concrete, but of the 1970s gangster movie, Get Carter. A scene from the film shows Michael Caine throwing an adversary from the upper floor of this very same edifice.

The multistorey car park must be the least-loved building type in Britain. When Griff Rhys Jones, the presenter of Restoration, visited Portsmouth to survey a shopping centre cum car park called the Tricorn Centre, also by Luder, most local people told him it should be knocked down. (The council began demolishing it in March.) But the unloved status of car parks is as much to do with economics as aesthetics. A parking space is simply that: a space, a primitive form of real-estate. Space is at a premium in the multistorey, so turning circles are tight, bays small, floor heights minimal and stairwells dark. When parking is as sought-after as it is in most city centres, there is no good economic reason to make the car parks any more inviting.

Parking really became big business after the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which gave local authorities the right to take over parking enforcement from the police and spend any money they earned on improving transport. Councils began contracting out their parking services to private operators, all of which form part of huge European or American parent companies, which make millions not only from car parks but from meters, penalty tickets, clamping and tow-away charges. …

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