Tight squeeze for drivers as parking space shrinks

  • Car ownership has grown at twice the rate of residential parking spaces since 2011
  • But despite this, only half (53%) of councils have increased the number of parking zones in their area
  • Many commuter belt areas such as Broxbourne and Watford in Hertfordshire are now among the most squeezed in the UK for parking space
  • Motorists wait anywhere between two days and 9.5 years to get a resident parking permit

Motorists are feeling the squeeze as space for residential parking shrinks while the number of cars soars.

The research, by esure car insurance, shows that since 2011 car ownership has grown at twice the rate of residential parking spaces with now more than two million extra carsi on the road. This means many driversii are having a daily battle to find a parking space anywhere near their homes. More than one in 10 (13%) drivers now find parking on their street difficult – a figure that rises to one in five (19%) among drivers living in London and to one in six (18%) for those living in the South East.

This is because the average amount of space-per-car in residential areas has shrunk by 3.4% in just five years – and by 7% over the past decade, decreasing from 9.84m per cariii in 2006 to 9.16m in 2016. The study compared the number of cars on the road with the amount of available parking space in residential areas, both on-road and off-road. It found that while residential parking space has grown by 3.7% since 2011 the numbers of vehicles on the road increased by 7.4% over the same period.

One of the reasons for the trend toward declining parking space is that the proportion of households now living in flats has risen from 21% to 23% over the past five yearsiv — and with only a third of flats having off-street parking available, cars and vans have been forced into surrounding residential roads.

The greatest pressure is on motorists in Kensington and Chelsea where residential parking has reached saturation point, with drivers allocated just 5.9m per car – and with some Chelsea Tractor’s measuring more than 5mv in length this leaves little manoeuvering space for motorists.

At the same time, outer London commuter areas like Broxbourne and Watford in Hertfordshire have seen the most dramatic change, with many of these commuter hotspots outside the top ten five years ago. Broxbourne has seen space-per-car shrink by 5% since 2006 and Watford has seen a tightening of 6% over the same period.

But this trend is not limited to the South. Northern cities such as Gateshead (14% decrease in parking space), Manchester (14% decrease) and Scarborough (13% decrease) have shown the fastest increases in car ownership with the biggest declines in parking space over the past decade.

Local councils are profiting from this increased demand for parking space by raising the cost of parking for residents. More than a third (37%) of local authorities have raised their residential parking charges since 2011 by an average of 51% — plus during this time, over half (54%) of councils increased the number of parking zones in their area over the past two years, meaning the money they are making has rocketed.

These changes mean that more than one in 10 (12%) drivers now have to pay for the privilege of parking their car near their home, with drivers paying an average of £64vi a year. Some of the most expensive permits were found in London Borough of Islington (£545), Mid Devon District Council (£425) and Purbeck District Council (£372)vii , with residential parking permits earning councils more than £44.2 viiimillion collectively in 2014/15 alone.

The squeeze in parking is not only putting up the cost of a residential parking permit, but in some cases leading to more than a nine-year wait to get one. Information obtained by a Freedom of Information request found that six councils admit residents have had to wait over a year for a parking permit in their area. The two areas with the longest waiting lists fall under the remit of Canterbury City Council and Mid Devon District Council, where two local residents had to wait 3,466 and 2,867 days (or 9.5 and 7.9 years) for a parking permit respectively. Other offenders include South Oxfordshire District Council (480 days), Scottish Borders Council (365) and South Kesteven District Council (336).

The lack of parking spaces is forcing some motorists to park illegally. One in 10 (10%) drivers say they have been forced to park illegally near their home because there wasn’t space for them and around a third of these illegal parkers were fined as a result, paying an average of £106 each in fines.

Jon Wilshire, Chief Underwriting Officer at esure, said: “Drivers are not imagining it – it really is harder to find a parking spot for your car. Over the past two decades the number of vehicles on the road in Britain increased by 10 million, going up from 21 million in 1995 to 31 million in 2015ix but the space available for parking in residential areas has not kept up. In some areas the average space available is so tight that drivers can barely manoeuvre their cars into the spaces available. When space is so limited, drivers must take extra care when parking to avoid damaging their own vehicle or those around them.”

Notes to editors:

esure commissioned Nelson Research to assess trends in residential parking space by mapping the number of cars against the size (in metres) of on-road and off-road parking throughout England & Wales, down to Local Area District Level. Sources used were Housing type profiles from Department for Communities and Local Government and The English Housing Survey, trends in numbers of dwellings at Local Authority District level from Department for Communities and Local Government, trends in numbers of cars at Local Authority District level from Census data (2001 and 2011), updated with data from the Department of Transport and latest (March 2016) data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, information on prevalence of dwellings situated on main roads (Survey of English Housing), and availability of off-street parking by housing types (English Housing Survey), census data on population density and lowest floor of dwellings, and the Opinium omnibus among 2,000 UK adults detailed below.

esure also issued Freedom of Information requests to 371 UK city, district, borough and county councils. Of these 141 (38%) responded with at least one piece of data. 238 are either yet to respond, said that they didn’t keep the data, or that they had no parking schemes in their area. The FOI request asked: the longest wait for a permit in the area, the cost of a parking permit in 2012, 2015 and 2016, the most expensive permit and the location for the permit, the amount (£) generated from resident permits in 2015, and whether the council increased parking zones in the past 12 months.

In addition, esure commissioned Opinium to conduct omnibus research among 2,005 UK adults aged 18+, asking about their experiences of parking in the area they live in between 29-31 March 2016. Results were weighted to reflect a nationally representative audience.

esure is an efficient personal lines insurance business. Founded in 2000 by Chairman, Peter Wood, Britain’s foremost insurance entrepreneur, the company is a leading provider of car and home insurance.


i Source: According to Nelson Research, since 2011 there has been an increase of 2.02 million cars & vans in ownership (census definition) in England & Wales, with an increase of 3.7 million since 2006.

iiSource: According to Opinium research, 13% of drivers say they find parking on their street very difficult.

iiiSource: Figures for the availability of residential parking space are derived from models for on-street and off-street parking, each using several data sources (see notes to editors). Parking space was then mapped against the number of cars and vans on the road over the same period. This reveals that the average amount of residential parking space per car has fallen from 9.84 metres (in length) per car to 9.16 metres per car since 2006 – a decrease of 7% in the past ten years

iv Source: According to Nelson Research/ The English Housing Survey, the proportion of households living in flats rose from 21% in 2011 to 23% in 2016.

v Source: Chelsea’s SW3 post-code has traditionally topped Britain’s 4x4 league table. The Audi Q7 measures 5052mm in length and the Mercedes GL measures 5120mm in length.

vi Source: FOI data. Average cost of a residential parking permit in 2015 was £64.

viiSource: FOI. When asked for ‘most expensive residential parking permit in [their] council area currently’.

viii Source: FOI data. Sum of all figures given in response to the question “How much money have you received from residential parking permits?” (broken down by financial year).

ixSource: According to vehicle data from The Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT).