Changes made during the pandemic to encourage social distancing have affected parking in St Andrews. Parking bays have been lost to an expansion in pavements and al fresco dining — now a familiar fixture to the UK high street. Some retail businesses in town say that cus- tomers have been deterred as a result of these measures.
In October 2020, the Spaces for People scheme set out plans to allow for social distancing in St Andrews. According to Fife Council, “Spaces for People is a temporary infrastructure programme in Scotland which offers funding to make it safer for people who choose to walk, cycle or wheel for essential trips and exercise during COVID-19.”
Under this scheme, £2.42 million was awarded to Fife Council, funded by the Scottish Government. This was managed by the charity for sustainable transport, Sustrans.
These measures include the widening of pavements into the carriage-way on South Street, Bell Street and Church Street. On Bell Street, thefootway was extended from 1.8m to 4.0m. The additional 2.2m social distancing measure involved relocating the existing taxi rank across to the opposite Greyfriars Garden.
Fife Council added that pave- ment changes “aim to help people to adhere to ‘physical distancing’ guidelines during the COVID-19 restrictions and the transition out of lockdown.”
South Street underwent similar changes to extend the pavement onto parking bays. A total of 28 parking bays were lost outside The Criterion, The Adamson and Jannettas Gelateria due to an expansion onto the road.
Today, social distancing is no longer mandatory, and the ex- panded pavement has either been reversed, as it has on Church Street, or turned into dining space.
Hazel, manager at The Criterion on South Street, said that the ad- ditional dining area has saved the business since the pandemic began.
At the height of the pandemic, the bar would be full with eight individual customers. Now there is capacity for 38 customers inside the gazebo which is erected outside the pub — in the area which previously occupied 10 parking spaces. Pavement and outdoor dining licenses were distributed as part of the government plan to revive the hospitality industry after it was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Hazel added that the pandemic would have “shut down our business” if the council had not allowed her to operate in the additional space.
She added that the council’s decision has divided local businesses, but for The Criterion it has been the difference between being open and being closed.
When asked about the loss of parking bays, Hazel said that most customers intend to drink alcohol, so they are not driving anyway. She added that despite the loss of parking, the extra floor space has also brought business to adjacent cafés and restaurants including Zizzi’s, Zest Café and The Canny Soul.
More than a year on since measures were introduced to widen pavements, the majority of these have remained in place. As lockdown restrictions have eased, calls are being made to remove the temporary dining spaces and bring back on-street parking bays.
Since it launched last year, 1,814 people have signed a pe- tition to reverse the Spaces for People measures in St Andrews.
The petition was created by BID St Andrews, the local branch of a business-led organisation designed to improve economic opportunitiesand the commercial area in town.
According to the petition statement, BID has “been approached by many businesses and members of the public concerned about the loss of key on-street parking spaces to the so-called temporary pavement widening.”
The statement adds, “We understand that Fife Council are implementing these measures on health and safety grounds but some of the measures directly contradict and contravene the government's recommendations.”
This includes the government’s message to avoid public transport during the earlier stages of the pandemic. In May 2020, the UK Government urged the public to avoid public transport to minimise the transmission of the virus between people in close contact.
They added, “How can they travel if they can’t park? The people who will suffer the most from the removal of these on car parking spaces will be the elderly and disabled who will no longer be able to access the shopping centre without difficulty. Lorraine is the manager at M&Co on South Street, a Scottish chain store selling clothing and homeware. She said that the new measures to widen pavements into the road has “killed trade”. She explained that six spaces, including a disabled parking bay, have been lost due to the expansion onto the road. The shop is beside The Adamson, a restaurant and cocktail bar, which has expanded its premises with pavement dining. Lorraine told us that the new measures prioritised hospitality at the expense of the retail industry. She explained that a typical elderly customer would park immediately outside, enter the shop and spend the rest of the day between nearby amenities such as the bank and the beauty salon opposite the store. Lorraine added that, when it comes to Christmas, there is little encouragement for the elderly visitors to shop in town. This is because of the difficulty in finding parking spaces with close proximity to shops.
BID St Andrews added in their petition statement that, “As we come into Winter and the predictably inclement weather it brings, proximity of parking is even more important for safety, particularly for the older population or those with accessibility issues.” When asked about the initial measures introduced during the pandemic, Lorraine added that the pavements in St Andrews were very wide to begin with — a sentiment that is sustained across business owners in town. According to Fife Council, “We want people to have an awareness of the space around them. ‘Pass with Care’ is the key message, making sure that plenty of space is available.” Jason Michaelson is the co-owner of Artery on South Street, an independent shop specialising in handmade work from various artists in Scotland and around the UK. He said that his customers travel from across Scotland to St Andrews specifically for Artery, so it would be wrong to say business has been poor as a result of the new street measures. However, Jason added that Artery still relies on visitors who drop in. He tells us that Fife Council should introduce a green park and ride system into town. Park and ride is a form of integrated private and public transport. This involves users parking vehicles in a large, free car park outside an urban area and travelling into the city centre using a bus service. It is often introduced to relieve congestion into and within a city and can also reduce the environmental impact accompanied with private transport. Jason explained that this might solve some of the problems the loss of street parking has had on the elderly and disabled visitors. He tells us that these groups have been impacted the most because of the parking bays that have gone from the central streets. He does not understand why Fife Council has not introduced park and ride already “to sort this out”. Tony Fusaro works at Luvians on Market Street, selling luxury dairy ice cream and whisky based in Cupar and St Andrews. He said that we should not think that visitors will come irrespective of traffic restrictions. He added that the demographics of the town — a large elderly population — mean that relatively close parking spaces to the shops should be provided. When asked about pedestrianising Market Street, which occurred briefly last year, he added that every business in town would suffer if Market Street was pedestrianised. Tony said that the student population is only in town for 25 weeks of the year. Luvians and most businesses in St Andrews rely on the local and visitor popula- tion who typically drive into town. He explained that elderly visitors could go to places with designated parking such as the Balgove Larder or Morrison’s Café, if it becomes difficult to access the centre of town. Fiona and Tom have parked in Queens Gardens. They live north of the town and travel to St Andrews by car every eight to ten weeks. Fiona explained that parking has always been difficult in St Andrews, but it would never put them off visiting. They are unsure whether the road has free parking — it does — and hope for better sign posting around the town. Fiona added that St Andrews has a lot of independent shops that they like to peruse. When it comes to parking, they would keep on driving until they found a spot. As Fiona and Tom drift into town, the widened streets they walk on represent one challenge of reshaping cities in the UK after lockdown.