Surveys are the lifeblood of the regional press, particularly if they cast a poor light on a town or city in the area.
I was contacted by the Northern Echo last night about a "survey" from Direct Line, which I was told showed that Darlington is the eighth most expensive place to park one's car in the country, at an eye-watering £3 for 2 hours.
So where in Darlington does one pay £3 for 2 hours? In most of our off-street car parks within the ring road it's £1.60 for 3 hours. I've just come off the phone from the press office at Direct Line who claim that their release shows us as the 19th most expensive place not the 8th, and from the story now on the Echo's website this morning, it looks like the press release at least is being properly quoted. Direct Line also say that their survey takes into account private as well as municipal car parks, and also factors in the number of car parking spaces for each charge. They say they'll get back to me with the figures to prove this. I'll await that email with interest.
I get very cross about this kind of sloppy story because at a stroke it undermines what the Council and the traders are trying to achieve to boost trade coming into town, at least as far as car parking is concerned. Media types in London may not be bothered with the minutiae of charges "out in the sticks" but to those of us who have to deal with the consequences of this kind of story, it matters very much indeed.
After ringing Direct Line's press office for "a little chat" I received the following email form Suzie Barrett
The information on car parks is collated on the basis of area and not local authority/ council. The researchers initially contacted the local authority in each area to determine the number of car parks by geographical area and then checked these against a map.
15 car parks in Darlington were contacted in August 2006 (including: Park Lane Station, Upper Archer St, Park-place East, Park-place West, Garden Street, Kendrew Street West, Kendrew Street East, Winston Street, Commercial Street West, Commercial Street East, Beaumont Street East, Beaumont Street North, Beaumont Street West, Abbots Yard and Town Hall)
If you would like more detail on how the weighted average price was calculated then please let me know - and I will speak again with the researchers. I hope this helps you with your query, Many thanks, Suzie
I then replied as follows;
These are my figures for these car parks at the time of your survey;
Abbotts Yard: £1 for first hour then £1.50 each hour thereafter (small car park in centre of town).
Winston St, Commercial St W & E, Beaumont St E, N & W, Town Hall: £0.80 hour (majority of our spaces).
Upper Archer St, Park Place E & W, Garden St, Kendrew St E & W: £3 a day (so equates to £0.30 hour).
Railway Station (only one not in Council control) we think was £9 a day, although may have been less. Equates to £0.90/hour.
In the light of this, I still cannot understand how Darlington car parks can be said to average £3 for 2 hours, unless your researchers assumed that people would park for two hours at the station and then leave after paying for ten! In reality, with different pricing structures available around the town, people park in the car park which best meets their needs as far as cost is concerned.
I would still be interested in the weighting from your researchers, in the light of the above. The number of spaces at the station is still dwarfed by the Council's short and long stay car parks.
I'm still waiting for a reply...