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Big Ben

And the BPA Winner Is ...

Peter Guest

Once again, the British Parking Association (BPA) awards are with us, and this inevitably means that, as one of the judges, I have got to travel the highways and byways of this green and pleasant land – more a muddy puddle, as I write this; it has been the wettest year in history – looking at other people’s ideas of what makes a good car park.

This year has been a bit sparse for new car parks in the UK, reflecting the state of the economy, I suppose. So in the end, the judging panel left me with just three shortlisted contenders to look at.     

One of these more or less got excluded because a delay in the handover to the owner meant that it wasn’t in the time frame for consideration for the 2013 award. It looks an interesting project though, and I look forward to seeing it formally next year.

Faced with a shortlist of two, I made an executive decision to put back in a site that had just missed the cut, basically because there wasn’t enough information in the entry. This was a lucky call, because both the other car parks were rather less than I had expected based on the entries.

In fact, in one, the ramp curve was so tight that I actually hit the wall on the turn, and it took me three tries to get round. (No, JVH, it’s not the driver. I’ve had the same car for more than 10 years, and this is the first time this has happened.)

The winner is a revelation. It’s part of a new Marks & Spencer store built in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, England. The store is the largest one M&S has ever built, and it’s also one of the largest sustainable retail stores in the world.

The development reportedly is the most carbon-efficient store, with a holistic approach to factors such as water, carbon use, biodiversity, impact on the community, materials used, and built with zero waste to landfill. It has achieved a BREEAM “excellent” rating, which is the leading and most widely used assessment method for sustainable buildings.

The M&S car park is a part-surface, part-deck facility. In terms of ease of use, the clever bit is that the second-level deck is aligned with the second floor of the store, which gives really good headroom at ground level and means that wherever the customers park, they have flat access to the shop.

The structure is quite simplistic but has a “green wall,” which means that in a year or two’s time, all that will be seen from the road is a natural planted green space. It’s early days, but the depictions show the promise of what is to come. Even the signs are made of wood!

I’ve been a BPA judge for six years now. This is the first car park that made me go wow! And the drainage works too!



Also Judging Car Park Refurbishments

I also get to judge the car park refurbishments category, which is much harder. Whatever the “refurbisher” (not sure that’s a real word) does, they are doubly constrained. First, by the limitations of the original design; second, by what the customer will pay for.

Clearly, it’s not fair or reasonable, for example, to judge the state of the lighting if the contract excluded an upgrade. Also, for serious structural damage, if the work has been done well and the surface finish applied, there is nothing to see.

Last year’s judging was an easy call: A horrible, horrible car park had been put back in good order with high-quality workmanship and with the basic drainage inadequacies sorted out. Not a fancy or even a good car park, but essential to the retail area that it served, and given a new lease on life by a well-thought-through and executed project.

This year, at the other extreme, I drove into and pretty quickly out of a car park that the entry claimed had been refurbished, extended with new parking and “improved” with a steel cladding. How in the name of sanity can anyone expect to have an entry into a “best of” competition judged seriously when the first thing that you see is a new sign on the wall telling drivers that the car park leaks and the operator will accept no liability for any damage to cars caused by lime scale deposits? A point well and truly missed.

There are many other BPA awards categories as diverse as new technology and “Young Parking Professional,” and entries that range from little more than a brief email to thick glossy brochures prepared for some of the big boys by expensive PR outfits. The thing is that the judges read them, not weigh them, and if a glossy entry is full of hot air and marketing speak, it quickly gets filed in the round tin box under the table.



 

Article Abstract from April, 2013




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