Penzance Town Centre

Penzance Town Centre

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Increased Car Parking Charges in Penzance

 There is a lot of concern about the steep increase in parking charges in Penzance over the summer (1 Apr - Oct).  Below are some facts, background information and my own commenbts on the issue.

 Key Points:

  • Steep increase in summer rates (to £1.50/hr) for Penzance and 4 other towns.
  • Free parking from 4 pm to 9 am in Penzance CC car parks (many other towns already had this or similar).
  • 'Just Parksmart phone app will allow cheap parking in long stay car parks (96 pence/day in Harbour Car Park) but credits have to be bought in blocks (minimum 47 pounds).  Credits don’t time expire.
  • Just Park will eventually cover short stay car parks ( - timescale unknown).


Cornwall Council took a policy a decision to raise an extra £770,000 pounds from just 5 towns (Pz, St Ives, Newquay, Truro and Falmouth). All the other towns I understand have had a zero increase although most were already substantially less expensive than Penzance and already had free evening parking. 

Penzance fought for free evening parking/night time parking - initially 5 pm to 9 a.m. but later 4 p.m to 9 p.m.  The original aim was to relieve parking pressure on residents in the Town Centre and Battlefields in the evening  given that car parks are virtually empty at night.  A secondary rationale was to grow the late afternoon and evening economy.   Most towns in Cornwall already had free evening parking. Penzance inherited charging in the evening from Penwith DC days.

Cornwall Council’s season ticket schemes offer good value but requires a major outlay, are inflexible and are poorly promoted.  CC is introducing 'Just Park' (smart phone app) which will allow parking at season ticket rates but with an outlay of £47 to purchase ‘credits’.  The parking credits do not expire at the end of the year.   Just Park will allow parking for 96 pence/day in the Harbour Car Park.  The rate is lower still for St Erbyns.  Just Park will suit smart phone users who park regularly in long stay car parks.  Just Park will eventually cater for short stay car parks.


Cornwall Council’s reliance on parking profits to 'balance the books' comes at the cost of damage to the retail sector in economically weaker towns like Penzance.  The new rates will have a negative impact on the retail sector in Penzance. 

The lesson for the future is to ensure that the ground rules for any future review of parking charges are properly set.   If all CC car parks in Cornwall had had rates increased by inflation (3% ish) then ~£480,000 pounds of the required £770,000 revenue increase would have been raised with minimal pain. Instead 5 towns have been ‘hammered’ to raise the entire £770,000.  The ‘public consultation’ over proposed charges came long after the policy decision to target increases at 5 towns .  

Penzance got a better outcome (or less bad outcome) than was originally on the cards because of the free evening parking 4 – 9 but that does not mean harm will be avoided.  The longstanding injustice regarding lack of free evening parking has been corrected.  The evening economy/hospitality sector will benefit and residents in the Town Centre will have more parking options.

For those that think CC has other options and is ‘crying wolf ‘over extreme budgetry pressure then consider Northamptonshire Country Council – effectively insolvent and under direct control of DCLG.   Northamptonshire is unlikely to be the last UK primary council to go bust given relentless budgetry pressure and expected future interest rate rises.

Sainsbury's Park & Ride


The Sainsburys Park & Ride (P&R) site, off Jelbert Way, Penzance,  is now in use primarily as a IOS visitor parking /coach parking site with IOS Parking Ltd (a long established small business providing IOS visitor car parking) having the licence from CC to operate the site.

The project has attracted all kinds of social media interest and speculation so here is an explanation of the situation and some of the background.

The current solution is a compromise.  It is not obvious that there is a better one available given the absence of any permanent subsidy to operate the site as a conventional P&R.  The important point is that the P&R site was bought by Cornwall Council (for one pound from BIH ) and turned into a car & coach park at Sainsbury’s expense as allowed for in the Sainsburys Section 106 agreement signed in May 2012 - agreement here) .  Failure to do so would have resulted in the land returning to BIH and the £1.2 million being repaid by Cornwall Council to Sainsburys. 

For those who want to know more read on (it is long story summarized here).  

The S106 agreement provided the land (from BIH) and funds (from Sainsburys)  for a ‘Park & Ride’ but there was never a solution to fund the dedicated bus service needed to make the P&R attractive and viable.  In the absence of an operating subsidy, users of the P&R were left with the routine bus services that serve Jelbert Way (return trip to Town £3). There was a small S106 contribution to subsidize bus tickets on these regular bus services but the amount was sufficient for only a temporary subsidy.

Both the land and the funding came with claw back provisions such that if the site was not built and used as a Park & Ride the land and the funding had to be returned.

The option of diverting the £1.2 million to higher priority Town Centre projects was explored by local Cornwall Councillors (led by Cllr Tim Dwelly).  The S106 agreement is ambiguous about the use of “unspent funds” but the legal advice was that the P&R contribution could only be spent on a P&R project.   

The urgency over getting the site built and operating has been to avoid losing the land and funding.  Once built the asset would exist for the benefit of the Town in the future even if there was no pressing need for a P&R in the short term.

Cornwall Council advertised for an operator for the site in July 2016 (advert here).  The advert allowed the site to be used for conventional P&R, IOS parking and seasonal overflow from Sainsburys (Xmas additional parking).  There were several tenders submitted.  This tendering exercise was terminated/suspended when the project was amended (see next para).

At the request of the business community (Chamber of Commerce) the original 240 car park design was amended to provide spaces for 8 coaches and 168 cars.  This solution provided much needed parking for coaches but reduced the attractiveness of the site to a potential P&R operator.

The site remained unused for months after completion because of a legal objection from Bolitho Estates who had placed a covenant on the land when they originally sold it to BIH's predecessor in 1978  for use as a car park for the Heliport.  The legal issues (details are not public) were resolved last week so it has been possible to open the site.


 The origin of the Sainsburys P&R proposal goes back to the earliest days of discussions between CC, Sainsburys and BIH.  In retrospect, it appears that the land was probably offered as part of the S106 package because it could not be sold for development due to covenants.  These legal constraints on the land were not widely known in Penzance until relatively recently. 

The Sainsburys Section 106 signed in May 2012 is recognized as badly flawed. It was developed at a time when the Town was divided over the Harbour so there was no unified position from the Town.  The agreement could not be changed afterwards except at great expense.  Actions in recent years have focussed on making the best of a bad situation.
It is highly questionable that a viable business case exists for a conventional P&R in Penzance at present - there is simply insufficient demand from commuters given the other options available including extensive free parking in Penzance to those who know the Town.  Visitors are less price conscious and would use a P&R only as a last resort (they have no choice in the matter in St Ives).

Cornwall Council's ''Just Park'' app will further undermine the business case for a P&R because it will allow commutors to park for about 96 pence a day in the Town's long stay car parks.

Cornwall Council is not operating the site directly probably because it has high costs and would likely incur losses unless it competed for IOS visitor car parking business (inherently unfair on existing private sector operators as the site would have cost Cornwall Council nothing).

IOS visitor parking has become a problem in the Town with development sites being developed (Lidls being the most recent).  It is not in the Town’s interest to have IOS visitors park long term in the Town’s car parks or on streets. 

Nobody is making big claims about the Sainsbury's P&R project.  There was a flawed agreement in 2012 and the result today is the best compromise that could be achieved in the circumstances.  The alternative was return of the land and P&R construction funds to BIH/Sainsburys.