Minimums to maximums: lessons from the UK

The United Kingdom has been both a bold parking reformer and a parking reform disappointment. But which is the more important story? And why?

The nationwide abolition of parking mandates in 2001 and the shift to parking maximums was amazing and of great interest to parking reformers elsewhere.

Yet, parking management has often failed to rise to the challenge, leading to problems and then to some backsliding on parking standards.

For more insight and lessons from UK parking, I turned to Andrew Potter, who is Director of Parking Perspectives, a parking focused consulting firm based in Chelmsford in the southeast of England.

Scroll down for a transcript. Listen with the player below. Or subscribe to the audio podcast. This is the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.


  • About my guest: Andrew Potter
  • Basics about on-street parking management - where it is strong [2:20]
  • Where is parking enforcement weak and parking behaviour worst? [3:59]
  • Pavement parking is not even an offence in England (but is in London and Scotland) [5:40]
  • Parking standards and the history of reforms [6:10]
  • Maximums dealt with a parking arms race [7:23]
  • Problems emerged in new residential developments with limited parking under maximums [8:39]
  • Why wasn't strict parking management expanded to such areas? [10:01]
  • Fundamental problem with the approach to on-street parking management outside city cores [11:31]
  • These problems led to pressure on government to change the approach to parking for residential developments [12:21]
  • Is London a counterfactual to refute the idea that these problems mean abolishing minimums and imposing maximums was foolish? [13:34]
  • What has been happening recently with parking standards, minimums and maximums? [16:40]
  • Trend for car free developments in city centre areas and this is generally successful since the streets are well controlled [19:50]
  • Residents of inner city car free developments are usually not eligible for parking permits in the local CPZ [20:21]
  • Are maximums still popular, despite the problems mentioned earlier? [20:54]
  • Suggestion: maximums at levels to make urban supermarkets viable, but not out-of-town ones [22:05]
  • Advice for other places thinking of abolishing parking mandates and or imposing parking maximums? [24:32]
  • Wrapping up [25:31]

Scroll down for a lightly edited transcript of the whole conversation.

My Guest

Andrew Potter founded Parking Perspectives in 2017, after more than 20 years working for major consulting firms on transport and parking policy projects across the UK and other countries. 

He was the main author of an interesting new report on parking in the UK entitled Just the Ticket, Parking Policy for Lower Carbon Travel. Which is a policy statement from the Transport Planning Society. 

The images below summarise the recommendations of that report.

For more information on UK parking reforms mentioned in this episode see: 

Lightly edited transcript of the conversation


Paul Barter: A big topic in this episode is going to be the UK's experience with parking minimums (parking mandates) and also parking maximums. There's a lot of international curiosity about that. 

But before we get into that, it's useful for the listener to have a little bit of background about how parking management works in towns and cities across the UK.

Are there perhaps three different regimes for parking on the street? There's the quite intensive parking management in the town centres, with regulations and marked out spaces. Then you have a little less intense management in the controlled parking zones (or CPZs), where we have conflict between residents and other kind of parking. And then you'll have the very light kind of controls beyond both of those.

Andrew Potter:  Exactly. Yes,  

Paul Barter: What is a controlled parking zone (CPZ)?

Andrew Potter: The controlled parking zone is an area of controls on street that limits parking to prescribed users who will have a permit. It's most common for residents and it's a way of protecting on street parking for those who live in that area, particularly against commuters near railway stations and those who live close to a town centre.

The controlled parking zone will typically be not in the town or city centre because that will just be controlled using traffic regulation orders where everything is individually marked up and the rules will be applied through the regulation orders separately.


Paul Barter: Of the three kinds of areas, the town centres or high streets with their intensive parking management, the CPZs with semi intensive parking management, and other areas, which are the places where you find chaotic, problematic parking?

Andrew Potter: It tends to be the third area where there is less enforcement and control. In the town centres, pretty much every town and city in the UK has an established and well resourced enforcement team who will also cover the controlled parking zones.

It's beyond there that parking will tend to be less controlled. There's no regular enforcement. There still might be requirements to patrol and enforce other specific sites but they will often be less regularly enforced 

We do also often have problems in employment locations that have attracted far more car based commuting than ever before or were designed for. These are edge of town workplaces, where there might be light industry, warehousing and things of this nature. 

Similarly, there are a number of residential developments where there were maximums or they were designed by the developers at the time with a view that people would not drive or not own cars [as much as they now do]. And car ownership is far greater than there is the capacity to park. So there's a tendency for people to park on the verges and the public spaces.


Andrew: Pavement parking actually isn't an offence in England.

It's just become a blanket ban in Scotland in the last few months. And parking on the pavement is an offence in London. And Wales, I would need to check what the status is there.

Paul: It's a little bit shocking to hear that parking on sidewalks, pavements is not just simply illegal. 


Paul: Okay. Now let's turn to the issue of parking supply regulation (known in the UK as parking standards), and the history of the shift from parking minimums or mandates to parking maximums. 

Andrew: Yes, the potted history is that London had parking maximums way back in the 1970s

Paul: So London was the pioneer in switching from minimums to maximums. Central London, is that right?

Andrew: Well, London was broken up into four areas. So there were the central area, inner ring, important suburban centres, and then the rest of Greater London. And the Greater London Development Plan in 1976 set out maximum standards for different land uses within those different zones at different levels. Residential was limited to no more than one parking space per dwelling and every other land use had an agreed amount of maximum parking. 

That was just London, but in 2001 this idea of maximums was extended to the whole of the UK via PPG 13 (Planning Policy Guide 13).


Andrew: And the reason it was good as a national document was because those opening offices would trade off one local authority with another. They might go to town A and say, we are a big blue chip investor, we're going to move our head office here, it will create 300 jobs. And town A would say, well, that's fine, here's an office block, but there isn't very much parking. 

Well, they would then go to the town 30 or 40 miles down the road, who would perhaps be a little bit more relaxed about the parking they'd offer and would use it as a negotiation to say, yes, you can have three or four hundred spaces in this site. 

And therefore it was seen as a bit of a competitive thing that was undermining the whole aim.

Paul: That's a very important point, isn't it? Having maximums across very broad areas was useful to defuse this parking arms race. That's very interesting.

And PPG 13, Planning Policy Guide 13, ...  what emerged from that was that local authorities adopted maximums and they would tend to have low maximums in the town centres and rather high maximums in the other areas. Would that be about roughly correct?

Andrew: Yes, exactly as you say, yes.


Andrew: So throughout the decade of the 2000s, there were plenty of developments that came forward where the amount of parking was restrained.

But the place where it really became noticeable and became a point of conflict was at the residential end of the trip. 

The intention had been that if developments had come forward with less parking, people would own fewer cars. But that wasn't happening. People were still owning cars, and they weren't finding enough place to park them when they brought them home. It created conflict between neighbours as people started to compete for somewhere to park or just simply parked on verges and wherever. 

Paul: And what was the geography of that? Was that generally in more central dense areas or more suburban areas or a bit of both?

Andrew: It would be in suburban areas and even standalone developments. 

Let's say five or six hundred houses would be built but they would have a limited amount of parking permitted with them and it would create conflicts. People were still owning and acquiring cars and then there was this constant battle every day between residents as to who would park where and who could find a space. People who were turning up and not being able to find somewhere to park were then putting their car on the parking lot. The verge or a piece of green space or something.


Paul: this story prompts the question, if you've got chaotic parking in an area that does not have intensive parking management, why do the local authorities not simply extend controlled parking zones to areas that have really serious problems?

Andrew: Ah, well, let's deal with residents. They will be the ones who might agitate for a controlled parking zone which is a way of protecting on street parking for their properties.

As you go further out of a town, residents see no reason to have a controlled parking zone. And even if offered by a local authority, who may be aware of potential problems in the future, will often get rejected in a consultation because residents don't want to pay the 130 pound a year or whatever their permit would entail. 

Paul: Residents tend to ask for controlled parking if they believe that their problems are because of outsiders. 

But if the problem is residents themselves parking illegally, having purchased vehicles that they don't have parking spaces for, then residents are understandably averse to seeking a controlled parking zone. 

Andrew: It's also a little bit of a hassle if a guest comes to visit that they might need to have a temporary permit or something like this. 

And so the whole process of having a controlled parking zone is not favourable if actually they don't perceive there to be a problem ... residents who don't face a problem in terms of people from outside their area.


Paul: So we can hear a problem, can't we, that the UK was quite bold in reforming its parking mandates and imposing maximums, but there seems to be a fundamental problem with the whole approach to managing the parking in the streets. 

I mean, the only places where it seems to be working very well is the town centres and perhaps inner city CPZs, which work well for the residents, maybe not for anyone else, but certainly the residents are happy. 

But everywhere else, there seems to be a fundamental incentives problem that nobody has the right incentives to get the on street parking under control. 

So things have gone out of control, and car ownership has also gone out of control, because people know that they can park on the verges and on the pavements and it's not a problem for them.


Andrew: So, conflict has occurred in those residential developments, which is why, by 2009, one local authority just broke ranks with PPG 13 and said that they would continue to use maximums at the destination but at the origin, the residential, end of the trip they were moving to minimums. 

And that became embodied as the general policy in 2012 when we had our new NPPF, the National Planning Policy Framework, which came under the coalition government in 2012. 

This even questioned the use of parking standards and said, well, do you even need them? It had a greater nod towards the developer knows best and should be allowed to provide what they think is correct and what they think the market will sustain.

Within that documents from the national government it said that, if setting parking standards, local authorities needed to do certain things. And it put a greater emphasis within there on the accessibility of the location when setting the parking standards. For example, how much public transport there was, what the car ownership was. The idea was to make it far more flexible.

[Note: As Andrew mentioned, the revised NPPF of 2012 requires Local Planning Authorities to take the following matters into account when developing parking standards:

  • The accessibility of the development
  • The type, mix and use of development
  • The availability of and opportunities for public transport
  • Local car ownership levels
  • An overall need to reduce the use of high emission vehicles.]


Paul: People in other countries listening to this might think, well, we should keep our parking minimums, keep our parking mandates because we need them to avoid the kind of problems that you've been describing. 

But I guess we can try to pose a counterfactual here. 

Suppose that was done [parking mandates abolished and maximums imposed], but a decision was also taken at that time to be much more firm about parking enforcement. Perhaps a ban on pavement parking was imposed at that time, before it became a bigger problem. The message was sent to everyone, no matter where you live, if you park illegally, there will be consequences. 

In that counterfactual history, presumably car ownership wouldn't have risen quite as fast and people thinking about buying a car in a residential area that had only so much parking would have thought twice about it. And they would have perhaps paid for off-street parking in a garage or something. They wouldn't have been illegally parking on pavements. 

But we don't actually have to just imagine it, right? Because actually London is that counterfactual. 

I mean, it's a big place. It has better public transport than the rest of the country. But it also does have quite a few relatively car dependent areas on its periphery. 

And so, within London, the rules were better enforced in most boroughs. The abolition of minimums and the imposition of maximums went better in London than elsewhere. Would that be an accurate summary?

Andrew: Yes, it would. 

And it's not exclusively London. I think you can go to other, city centers where enough of the on-street is controlled. 

If you live in the centre of Manchester, for example, and you had a flat there and you didn't have somewhere to park, you're going to have to walk a long, long way before you find somewhere that is not either city centre and therefore there's no parking because it's all being used for unloading, bus bays, bus routes, etc., and it's all controlled or yellow lines. Then you walk through all your controlled parking zone areas that will be around the city centre. And you're probably going a very long way before you find a street that is not controlled in some way that you could park a car up. So that makes owning a car unfeasible, and so people don't do it. And that's very much what you're describing for London, in that the restrictions are all in place. 

Paul: I guess that's a reassurance to us parking reformers who want to abolish parking minimums, parking mandates. 

What we have been saying is that that's not enough, right? You also have to get your act together to manage the on street parking. 

I guess parts of the UK are a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don't do that.

Andrew: Yes, agreed. You have to control the street to make maximums work, be that at the origin or at the destination. Absolutely.


Paul: So what's been happening recently? 

Because this sounds like a mixed story, right? We have areas that are clearly a success from a parking reform point of view, and others that are more of a mixed bag. 

So, more recently, what are the trends, in terms of parking policy towards the supply of parking?

Andrew: Ignoring the big urban centres where maximums will prevail, with more provincial towns, it may well be a case that the planning authority are looking for a target amount of parking. That's where, Parking standards tended to move in the last 10 years.

Paul: So they're both minimums and maximums at the same time? 

Andrew: They are. And then developers negotiate around those. 

There are exceptions. There are local authorities that are operating maximums and some that are operating both minimums and maximums. And so they provide a target range. 

And others that just provide a kind of standard, which is the expected default level, and then developers will come forward with a scheme and say, look, we're going to run buses, or we're going to do this, that and the other, and our people will not have such high car ownership, or the people coming to our site will not have such high car use. 

And that negotiation leads to the planning consent being granted for quite often lower parking levels than perhaps the local authority would start with, because, because lands are hugely valuable and there is a recognition that if the market and the tenants or the occupiers are not going to demand the level of parking that they might have done in the past, then this is suitable for developments to change this way.

And the local authority then knows that they are then left with the consequence of it, in that they will have to control more of the street. But if it's in a location where the street is not controlled, or there are pockets which are not controlled, the planning authority is concerned that it's going to create a problem.

Paul: Yes, and we heard earlier about this problem of the incentive structure. It's not easy for the authority to impose parking management on the streets if the local residents are not keen on it.

So just to clarify, under the framework of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the big cities, especially the cores of the big cities, still having maximums, both for residential and for non residential parking. Then further out in more provincial towns and more suburban locations, the tendency is that there still don't seem to be mandates or minimums for non residential parking, but there's quite often minimums for residential parking, but sometimes also maximums or targets, as you said.

Is that roughly speaking the big picture?

Andrew: Yeah. It does vary from local authority to local authority. But it would be very easy to find examples of what you've said.

Paul: As always, the real world is complicated and there's lots of devils in the detail!

Andrew: Yeah. 

[Note: In 2018, the NPPF was revised and opened the door more explicitly to minimums while slightly discouraging parking maximums ("Maximum parking standards for residential and non-residential development should only be set where there is a clear and compelling justification that they are necessary for managing the local road network.").]


Andrew: The other big move has been within city centers, where there has been a big move towards car free developments. 

This is happening in many London boroughs, where developers are moving forward with very little parking, if any. And the whole idea is that this is generally acceptable, for the reasons we say, in that the on street is largely controlled. And therefore they can be successful.


Paul: Would the residents of these new buildings generally be ineligible for a parking permit if the location is within a CPZ?

Andrew: Yes, that's another really good change that's happened. 

So, London boroughs and probably not exclusively to London, but I can think of a few where they will actually exclude the new development from being eligible for a parking permit on the street so that the residents can't move in and then demand a permit and cause greater pressure on the existing permits that are in issue.


Paul: Again, big picture story for people in other countries, the abolition of minimums hasn't necessarily been seen as a problem. 

And it seems even maximums are not sort of out the window, despite some of the problems that have emerged. They're still seen as relevant, especially for dense areas, but there's a little bit of caution, to be careful where you do them, and how you apply them to avoid those problems that you mentioned right earlier on. Is that right?

Andrew: I think so. 

There have been some authorities that, from my observations, just stayed on the course and continued to apply their maximums to the best of their ability. 

Whereas others moved a little bit more to a target approach.

What's happened in the last five or six years has been greater recognition and concern about the climate emergency. And it's created a new impetus in people saying we do need to reduce the amount that people drive. 

And the other pressure has been housing. A maximum parking standards actually allows greater density of housing.


Andrew: Within the Transport Planning Society's "Just the Ticket" report, we did suggest something ... that with retail, certainly grocery retail, we've seen a move towards more urban living and people going shopping for their grocery more often. 

Paul: Oh. Interesting.

Andrew: And so one of the things we suggested there ... and this was very much in tune with some of the grocery models of the smaller Metro grocery stores, is that they have come up a situation where they've wanted to open a smaller grocery store supermarket in a urban area. And because the maximum parking standards would limit the amount of parking, the grocery store developer has suggested that it doesn't make the store viable. Whereas if they build their site in a rural edge of town area, the standards are much higher, they can provide much, much more parking. 

So, one of the things we were saying is that there needs to be potentially higher maximums for grocery retail in urban areas, in order to ensure that these sites can be viable. It's not whether it's a maximum or not. It's setting that maximum at a right level so that the metro grocery store is viable and then the maximum is absolutely fine. 

And I would go further, and we do in the report, to suggest why not set the same maximum for the out of town grocery retail? Of course that would make it unviable out of town where the whole idea is that 90 percent will probably arrive by car. So as soon as you say you've got a limit on your parking out of town. 

This is a deliberate parking policy tool that could have much bigger repercussions in terms of where developments go ahead because it starts to address the very viability of where you can place your sites.

Paul: One of the criticisms of land use planning in the UK is that it hasn't done enough to discourage that kind of out of town car dependent development. It is not quite American style, but in that direction, at least by European standards. 

And so what you're saying is, parking policy might be a useful tool to deter too much more of that

Andrew: It shouldn't be. It should be that the planning rules can face up a little bit more clearly. But nonetheless, we do still see edge of town, out of town going ahead.


Paul: One question that perhaps sums up the whole story for outsiders is this. If someone comes to you from a, from a city or a state in America, Australia, India, or wherever, saying we are thinking of abolishing the parking minimums, and we're looking at the UK experience, what would your advice to them be? What should they learn from the UK experience with abolishing minimums and doing various other things?

Andrew: I think the suggestion that maximums are a very effective tool is correct. 

The experience from the UK I think would be to understand that people enjoy using their cars. They find them very convenient and therefore they will continue to look for ways to do it. 

And therefore the key thing is to control on-street parking, control the space. If you can control on the street, apply maximums. If you can't, don't.


Paul: There's a lot of international interest in the UK story. In some ways it would be nice if there was a very simple success story and people could say abolishing the minimums and imposing these maximums was a raging success, no qualifications. 

We don't quite have that story, but I think what we do have is a very interesting story.

So, the bottom line is establish a system such that no matter where it is, if a parking problem appears in the streets, it's relatively easy for the local authority to pounce on that problem and do some parking management.

If you can do that, then your off street parking will be much easier. You have more choices. You can abolish the minimums. You could even have maximums if you want, and it will be less risky if the on street parking is under control.

Andrew: Yes.

Paul: Thank you very much, Andrew, for sharing that with us.

Andrew: You're welcome. Thank you.

Edited and transcribed with the help of Descript.

Listen to the audio episode here: 


Please do recommend Reinventing Parking or SHARE this article and episode with any of your friends or colleagues who might be interested. Please share on social media too!

Subscribe, if you haven't already (it's free):