Free Parking

Unattributed article published in "Opening Times", November 1994:

CAMRA, both nationally and locally, abhors the practice of drink-driving. If you have drunk anything alcoholic, you should not sit behind the wheel of a car and drive. Simple as that, or is it?

The legal limit of alcohol when driving is around 4 units, one unit being equivalent to half a pint of "standard" (probably up to 3.8% ABV) bitter, one glass of wine or one measure of spirits. But as we all know, beer affects different people in different ways. I always know when I've had a pint; I never enjoy driving after even one pint, and certainly wouldn't after two. My personal view is that if I have had any alcohol, I won't drive. Moreover, I won't accept a free lift home off anyone who has had a bit to drink. To be honest, I couldn't care less about them losing their licence if they are collared, but this "mate" who drives me home could end up killing me. For the sake of a couple of beers.

If I'm going out and I know I'll be drinking, I won't drive. Catch a bus, get a train or drive and go elsewhere. But you wonder if pubs are indirectly encouraging people to drink and drive by providing large car parks. Certainly many out of town pubs have large car parks in front. The Old Mill in Cheadle Hulme or the Plough & Flail in Mobberley are prime examples. But pubs with no car park NEVER attract a drink-drive public - the Queen's Head in Stockport or the Sportsmans, Market Street, Manchester, or the Circus, again Manchester, for instance.

In the case of many new pubs this isn't the fault of the pub or the brewery. Planning requirements often stipulate that new pubs have to have a car park of a minimum size - you can bet that Robinsons would have been happier building a bigger pub with a smaller car park when they built the Three Bears in Hazel Grove, for example. In these days when deregulation is a buzz word this is one bit of red tape that could certainly go into the dustbin - and make a contribution to road safety at the same time.

Letter in response to the above from Peter Edwardson printed in "Opening Times", December 1994:

Your anonymous correspondent in November's issue makes a facile equation between pub car parks and a drink-driving clientele which is very wide of the mark and quite frankly an insult to responsible licensees and pub customers. Surely he is aware that people visit pubs by car for a wide variety of legitimate reasons which may not even involve drinking alcohol at all, for example eating meals and playing pub sports. It is a rare pub nowadays that can get by purely by appealing to heavy drinkers.

Maybe in one or two cases the planners have insisted on overlarge car parks for urban pubs - the Longsight in particular springs to mind. But I can assure him that the car park at the Three Bears which he questions is fully used at busy times and not, I think, by lawbreakers. Would it help road safety if they all parked on the road? The pubs he mentions without car parks which "never attract a drink-drive public" are all in city-centre locations, and it is fatuous to suggest that it would be practical for suburban or rural pubs to follow their example.

It would be desirable in many ways for society to be less dependent on the car. But it's a fact of life that people do travel to pubs by car, and in the vast majority of cases they're doing nothing illegal or immoral. If all pub car parks were shut, it might or might not lead to less drink-driving, but it would certainly make it impossible for many pubs to survive. And why should pubs be singled out for special treatment? Surely the same factors apply equally to social clubs, hotels, restaurants, leisure centres and indeed anywhere else with a bar. Drink-drivers don't all drink in pubs by any means.

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I'm not sure now that I'd say "It would be desirable in many ways for society to be less dependent on the car", but maybe it was just to make the argument seem more politically correct.

Possibly today the pendulum has swung too far the other way, with the planning authorities ignoring the fact that pubs generate a demand for parking and allowing them to open in locations like the King's Hall in Cheadle Hulme with no car park whatsoever. I'm sure that a substantial proportion of its customers arrive in cars (driven by law-abiding drivers), and have to find somewhere else to park. Much the same goes for the proposed Wetherspoon's in Hazel Grove which would result in a lot of back-street parking in the vicinity, thus causing a nuisance to local residents. (In March 2000 it looks anyway as though this project is not going to go ahead.)

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