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Published:  29 September, 2014

You won't belive your butts!!! British Land’s Whiteley shopping centre in Hampshire is looking to set new standards for shopping centre parking with innovations in both facilities and pricing

Designed to provide a simple, hassle-free experience for its visitors, the car park at Whiteley shopping centre in Hampshire was commended at the British Parking Awards 2014 in the Best Car Park Operation category only 10 months after opening. But the team aren’t resting on their laurels, keen to make further improvements to ensure it continues to provide the best possible service. 

The centre has 1,539 parking spaces across six surface car parks that hug the perimeter of the centre and include 79 parent and child bays, four electric vehicle charging points, provision for Blue Badge holders and a cycle rack holding up to 200 bicycles. 

Between the opening of the centre in May 2013 and the end of that year, the centre had welcomed over 2.7m customers and 1.5m cars, and parking numbers remain steady with just over 50,000 cars using the car park per week, accompanied by 75,000-80,000 pedestrian footfall.

“As the first and last thing the shopper sees, the smooth running of a car park in a shopping centre environment is vitally important,” says Whiteley’s operations manager, Darren Gooding. “We aim to provide a safe and secure car park, a relaxing atmosphere and a helpful staff presence to make visitors feel at ease.”   

And he believes the parking tariff is a major draw. Whiteley offers three hours of free parking and the option to ‘top up’ for an additional hour or two at a cost of £1 or £2 respectively. Plus parking is free after 6pm seven days a week. 

“We sit in between the two major cities of Portsmouth and Southampton and close to the busy town of Fareham which all charge for parking whereas we offer the first three hours for free; it’s something that so many shoppers ask for so it’s a great selling point and it puts people at ease,” he says. “We don’t charge for parking in the evenings either so people can have a meal at leisure without worrying about getting back to their car.” 

Customers can use the centre’s car parking app to extend their stay using their mobile phones, allowing them to pay at any time during their visit so they don’t have to rush back to their cars when they might be queueing in-store or having a meal at one of the restaurants.  

The car parks are open from 6am, catering for the centre’s core retail hours of 9am to 8pm and the restaurants which open up until 11pm. The car parks are patrolled during the day by a team of 14 supplied by GBM Support Services – in easily recognisable Whiteley branded blue uniforms - whose role is to provide customer service including an escort to car service for customers who require assistance. 

The team behind Whiteley believe the one-level approach is a draw and with no stairs, lifts or escalators to navigate access from the car parks into the shopping areas are accessible by all. LED lighting is installed throughout, 39 CCTV cameras monitor the car parks at all times and a vehicle management system sign posts available parking spaces at the centre’s entry points. Help information is also displayed with a direct phone number for the security control room, allowing visitors to call for immediate assistance if needed. 

“It’s an open surface car park all the way around the scheme so access isn’t a problem for wheelchair users and others who are physically impaired,” explains Gooding. “Indoor car parks often have false lighting and lifts or enclosed stairways which can make people feel contained and restricted. Our open car park sets us apart and there’s landscaping too which keeps it nice and welcoming.”  

Unlike the rest of the centre’s car parking areas, the one adjacent to and solely for use by those visiting Market Square - an area of the centre which hosts local shops – has a one hour parking limit to encourage turnover. 

All six car parks have Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) allowing staff to monitor dwell time and for customers staying beyond the three hours of free parking, their registration number is input at point of payment and added to the centre’s records. It’s a system Gooding says has proved extremely useful in monitoring usage of retail staff, enabling management to ensure parking provision for the customers remains a priority.

“We monitor the car park via ANPR, recording busy and quiet times, and it’s linked in with the centre’s footfall counting system so we get a good idea of the customers coming in – how long they stay, how much they spend and a number of other metrics. It’s a great tool for management to push forward new initiatives.” 

The centre’s immediate customer base is made up of Whiteley’s 7,000 residents (a number likely to grow under plans to provide a further 3,400 new homes north of the town) but there are also two busy business parks on its doorstep – Segensworth, which employs 7,000 people and Solent, which is home to 5,000.  

Since opening in May 2013, the centre has introduced a shuttle bus to both business parks, as Gooding explains: “Solent Business Park, for example, has 5,000 employees and we found they tended to jump in their cars and drive the five minute journey to Whiteley on their lunch break. We launched the shuttle service to ferry people between the business park and Whiteley, reducing traffic on the roads around the centre, easing congestion and allowing our customers to access the car park quickly and easily. And of course, it’s also environmentally friendly.” 

And there are further plans to reduce traffic on the roads around Whiteley: “We’re soon to launch a car sharing website too, which will have a Facebook-like set up,” says Gooding. “All retailers and staff will be able to sign up for free, post their weekly or monthly work rota and offer fellow Whiteley employees who live near them a lift to work. It‘s due to launch in the next couple of months.”

The centre employs a dedicated travel plan co-ordinator who works with local businesses, local and city councils to drive the initiatives, all with a view to free up parking spaces for the centre’s customers. Both schemes have green implications too and there are a number of other sustainable initiatives.  

“We’ve installed two electric vehicle charging posts in the East and North car parks, which charge four cars at a time, allowing our customers to sign up with their electricity provider and re-charge their cars for free while they shop,” says Gooding. “It’s that kind of convenience that could sway someone from going to another centre.” 

All payment machines are solar powered and to further the centre’s BREEAM credentials, there is a rain water harvesting system installed under the car parks which releases water slowly to maintain trees in the car parks as well as supplying the main centre and anchor tenant M&S, which uses the water in its customer toilets. 

Gooding is proud of what the centre has achieved so far and with the operation of the car park – it was also awarded Park Mark status in October last year – but he isn’t afraid to make changes to best serve the customers.  

“The experience should be one of enjoyment and relaxation,” he says. “We have a great mix of retail together with a well-run car park and that makes for a successful centre.”