Nottingham is tackling congestion and investing in public transport with the support of big business. Learn how your council could do the same.
17 Oct 2019
Nottingham’s Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) is an annual fee paid by businesses with 10 or more employee-parking spaces.
The council uses all the money to improve public transport and support businesses to encourage employees to leave their cars at home.
It’s been an unprecedented success – saving millions of car journeys (and the associated pollution), tackling congestion and leading to some of the highest public transport use in the UK. More trams, better train connections and cleaner buses.
Furthermore, despite media-scare stories, business is booming and other cities are now interested in the scheme.
If you’re campaigning for climate action in your local area, this is a great example of how your council could cut climate-change emissions and air pollution from road traffic.
Nottingham: it’s the mix of people and stories that make Old Market Square so special – of Luddites protesting, Nottingham Forest FC bringing home trophies and skating superstars Torvill and Dean holding up their Olympic gold.
This vast public space, overlooked by the grandly columned Nottingham Council House, is where pedestrians meet-up, stroll, shop and lunch. It’s also where the decarbonising of the city’s transport is most obvious.
Despite being the heart of the city, this area is super-convenient to reach as every 10 minutes (every 7 minutes at busy times) an electric tram pulls up at Old Market Square stop.
Buses come past too and there’s ample cycle parking. There are still people driving into the city but the combination of great public transport (including park and ride) and Nottingham City Council launching the UK’s first Workplace Parking Levy has transformed the way people get to work – and to the shops.
Investing in public transport
The Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) was launched in 2012. It cost £4 million to set up but in the first 7 years it had raised the council almost £64 million, money which was ringfenced to improve public transport and tackle congestion.
The annual £415 charge, per liable parking place, paid by the employer (which will increase in line with inflation) was invested into 3 main areas to lever in funding to:
1. More than double the tram network
Through a £570 million extension and 2 new tram lines carrying 16.4m passengers a year.
2. Redevelop the central rail station (costing £60 million)
The station sees 7 million passenger journeys a year. Improvements include platform space, better connections between trains and better linkages for cycles, car parking, taxi, pedestrians as well as trams.
3. Support the council’s bus network
The network accommodates 3.5 million passenger journeys a year – enabling investment in electric vehicles.
The WPL also pays for a workplace travel advisor who supports businesses to make travel plans.
More than £500,000 in grants have been awarded to help employers make sustainable transport measures more possible by cycle infrastructure, including cycle parking, showers, pool bikes plus electric vehicle charge points and car park management systems.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling visited Nottingham in November 2017 to announce the government’s new £1.7 billion funding package for councils, designed to help improve connections within cities.
Nottingham now has some of the highest public-transport use in the UK, and at the same time there’s been a fall of 40 million car miles over the past 15 years.
The intention is to continue investing money raised by the WPL into transport.
One of the strengths of the Transport Act 2000 (the WPL-enabling legislation) is that money is ringfenced in law to be spent on issues contained within a local authority’s Local Transport Plan and not on anything else.Spokesperson for Nottingham City Council
The first Workplace Parking Levy schemes were in Australia but they "are very different to Nottingham’s scheme. The Australian ones are focussed on defined-business areas and they don’t have competing cities within easy travelling distance” says a spokesperson for the council.
Winning business over
Critical to the success of the Workplace Parking Levy was getting business on side.
In 2007, Atkins did a study into congestion in Nottingham on behalf of the East Midlands Development Agency (no longer in existence).
One of the key findings was that, 12 years ago, congestion was costing the city £160 million, half of that cost being borne by businesses directly.
Two of the local Chamber of Commerce's top 3 transport priorities – the big ticket projects – were the extension of the tram line into a network and the redevelopment of the station into a 21st century transport interchange.
This meant that Nottingham City Council (NCC) needed to make clear that the Workplace Parking Levy was the mechanism to raise local funding (that could be used to lever in external funding) to secure these big transport changes.
NCC showed how congestion was a threat to economic wellbeing because it can stall investment, growth and visitor numbers.
In financial terms congestion was estimated to cost Nottingham’s economy £160 million each year – half of that cost was absorbed by businesses.
Therefore, reducing congestion in Nottingham directly benefits businesses. But the city council never said it would reduce congestion, instead it made clear that the aim of the Workplace Parking Levy was a mechanism to constrain the growth of congestion by providing a modern public transport system, offering alternatives to driving, especially at peak times.
The mechanism worked by ringfencing the levy to improve the tram, train and bus networks eg, Nottingham Express Transit Phase 2 served around 1,800 city workplaces to which 55,000 employees commute.
What contributed to getting a levy in place?
Nottingham already had:
- Low levels of car ownership in the city.
- A restricted road network.
- A long track record of public-transport use.
- A council that was a major shareholder of Nottingham City Transport – one of two award-winning bus companies and the first modern tram line (opened 2004).
- Park and ride linking to bus and tram services (Nottingham was an early adopter).
- Schemes encouraging cycling, including separate cycle lanes and bike hire.
Local business understood the need for more investment on the transport front but many had concerns about the workplace levy and made this clear. There was also considerable resistance in local and national media.
Nottingham continues to have to face media firestorms.
In early 2019, when 10 councils around the UK announced interest in replicating the scheme, the national press ran stories about commuters being likely to face £1,000-a-year charges to park at work in a bid to tackle pollution.
The AA has called it a “poll tax on wheels”.
In a bid to try and stop journalists misleading readers, Nottingham created a one-page, 10-point, myth-busting FAQ fact sheet.
How popular is the WPL in Nottingham?
When the WPL was introduced there were 2,596 eligible employers and to date the levy has 100% compliance.
No businesses have left the city, or been put off moving to Nottingham.
The NCC fact sheet points out that the “levy is not a barrier to investment. In fact, the council has supported more companies moving into the city than in the previous five years with new companies creating around 1,600 jobs during that time.”
In addition, the tram and station works have employed around 1,200 people.
Nottingham is certain that individuals do not suffer a financial penalty.
The levy costs £415 a year per liable parking place, but only the largest employers are charged. It kicks in for employers with more than 10 car parking spaces – all employers with 10 or fewer parking spaces receive a 100% discount.
For the majority who pay the charge the cost is less than 1% of their turnover. There are exemptions for local emergency services, NHS frontline staff and parking places used by blue-badge holders.
Unexpected consequences have been noted. The spokesperson says:
“Larger employers have reviewed their land use and changes have resulted in new revenue streams, for example at Nottingham Trent University’s new halls of residence built on former car park in the city centre, enhancing the university’s offer to students.”
Could any council do this?
Nottingham may be the first in the UK to set up a Workplace Parking Levy, but any council could do this.
“Following the success of Nottingham’s multi award-winning WPL scheme there is significant interest across the country from other local authorities, Transport for London and several London boroughs are actively engaging with us.
"There is also significant interest from Birmingham, Reading and Cambridge. The first steps are, having identified a congestion problem and decided that a WPL scheme might be one possible solution option, to contact Nottingham City Council to learn from its experiences,” he says.
Nottingham’s WPL is well thought out and popular, but is there anything they would have done differently?
The spokesperson is clear: “Not really. Nottingham City Council had to consider all options, whereas we now have a model for other local authorities to follow and by doing so they could implement their own WPL scheme more quickly, cheaply and with far less risk that Nottingham faced being the pioneer."