Car parking in Manchester city center is just getting a bit ridiculous – Dianne Bourne

As I sat looking at the photos of rich famous person Molly-Mae Hague’s car slapped with a parking fine in Manchester city center earlier this month, my first feeling was anger. Her car was illegally parked in a loading bay on Hardman Street, while she headed off to posh restaurant The Ivy.

“Why couldn’t she just park in a car park like we all have to do?” I raged at myself, and anyone who’d listen on the work group chat.

“I mean, she’s got the same 24 hours in a day as the rest of us, and yet I manage to drive round to the car park at Kendals to deposit my vehicle when partying in Spinningfields,” my internal monologue fumed.

READ MORE: “I was driven round the bend by confusing car parking apps”

But then, as the fog of anger slowly began to subside, I actually started to think about all this. I had a moment of clarity.

Molly-Mae Hague’s car gets a parking ticket in Manchester

Love Island star Molly-Mae got her comeuppance for that Hardman Street faux pas with a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) slapped on her car by Manchester Council. These vary in price, depending on the misdemeanour, from £50 to £70. But if paid within 14 days of issue that can be reduced by 50% – so you’d pay £25 to £35.

So, hang on, I suddenly realised, it’s not that much more expensive to park wherever the hell you like in Manchester and pay a fine – than it is to pay at certain car parks in the city center at the moment. And probably a lot less hassle.

Because do you know how much it costs to park at the car park near Kendals, aka King Street West which is owned by the council? I’ll tell you how much.

£11.20 for 2 hours, £20.20 for four hours, and if you need to stay more than six hours in there you’re stung for £32.50. £32.50!! And that’s, of course, if you don’t fall foul of the mind-meltingly difficult car park ticketing machines across the city.

At some point during lockdown, presumably when they thought none of us would notice, almost all of the car parks in Manchester changed. They brought in new, annoying, ticketless systems that work via some kind of laser beams that track your car (also known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition, I’m told).

Meanwhile 12 of the joint venture NCP-Manchester City Council owned car parks were returned fully back to the council on January 1, 2021. Including those at the Arndale, Northern Quarter, China Town, Piccadilly Gardens and yes, the King Street West car park .

The Arndale car park is now a ticketless car park

In the good old days (who would ever think I’d fondly reminisce about this), you used to just get a ticket when you drove in, and then paid at the ticket machine when you went out. Simple.

Not anymore. Oh no, now you need to not only remember your entire license number plate (a challenge in itself at times), but also decide exactly how long you’re going to be staying there. Which of course isn’t always very easy when you’re on a night out for example, or on a work job that doesn’t have a specific end point.

It’s basically just a massive pain in the bottom, in my opinion, that means you either pay more than you need to – or not enough – and further increases your chances of tripping up and getting a fine.

I’ve asked Manchester Council about the change to its car park systems with the machines and how many people have been fined in off-street car parks between January 2021 and March 2022.

On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like many – 3.6 per cent of those using the council’s ‘pay on arrival’ off-street car parks resulted in a Penalty Charge Notice for parking without correct payment. But do you know how many people that percentage equates to? A jaw dropping 46,241.

So I’m guessing there’s a fair few thousand of you out there as annoyed as I am about the new parking systems in the city. It’s just become so very stressful.

As to the costs of car parking, the council says: “The tariffs were set by the previous NCP operators and have not been changed by the Council.”

So, the King Street West car park remains the most expensive in the city center with that eye-watering £32.50 top charge to park for over six hours (staying up to 24 hours).

The cheapest council-owned long stay car park is Sheffield Street at the back of Piccadilly which I’ve never used but clearly need to seek out as it is just £3.80 for 24 hours. Meanwhile, at the Arndale or Northern Quarter multi-stories if you’re there for more than 5 hours it’s £20.50, in China Town if over six hours it’s £25.50.

Parking by the hour ranges from £3.20 up to £5.70 depending on which car park you end up in. I just don’t understand why there’s such a vast difference in pricing across the sites.

Car parking fees at the Arndale car park – which you now pay-on-arrival

I mean at these sorts of prices it’s almost as if we’re ALL being penalized when parking right in the heart of the city centre. When you’re having to pay more to park for a few hours in a legal car park than you would to pay a parking fine, you start to realize how ridiculous it’s all become.

The council says it brought in the new pay-on-arrival system to “align the car parks to the model used in ‘on street’ car parking using existing contracts for payment machines and digital payment providers”. But oh those machines.

If you’ve seen an irate woman thrashing her arms about in a car park Manchester in the past year, it was more than likely me. I can’t even tell you the amount of annoying incidents I’ve had with the parking machines that I’m sure require you to have a Masters in International Law from Harvard to be able to use on the first go.

On a recent parking up session at the Arndale car park I was left literally jumping up and down in rage when a man pointed out that I’d actually paid for the person before’s parking, not my own, when I’d stuck my card over the contactless pod when they hadn’t fully completed their own transaction. So I ended up paying TWICE for an already expensive three hour stay of £9.20. Unbelievable.

The huge queues at the Whitworth Street NCP car park after the Beauty and the Beast musical had finished

Or the time when the machine ‘did not recognize’ my number plate at the fancy touch screen system at the NCP Whitworth Street car park. That car park in particular (which remains an NCP) is inducing some major meltdown moments with its proximity to the Palace Theater and the inevitable huge queues after big shows like Beauty and the Beast in town at the moment.

Indeed on my recent visit there to watch that show, there were confused faces everywhere as people who haven’t parked in the city for a while kept coming up and asking me (I was eating my tea in my car in case you’re wondering ) where they got their ticket from and how they were meant to pay.

At the end of the show, the queue was out the door and I got to watch as one person after another did the same irate arm waggling as I did trying to work out how to use the flipping machine.

Ticketless parking explained at the NCP on Whitworth Street

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the off-street car park situation that’s annoying. There was the day when I thought I’d ‘keep it simple’ and do on-street parking but NONE of the machines in the entire Northern Quarter would accept my payment and I ended up stopping and starting like a milkman for about an hour to find somewhere to park that would accept my hard-earned cash. But ultimately ended up back in a multi-storey.

“Why don’t you park in one of those dodgy wasteland type car parks on the edge of town?” You might ask. Well, yes, I’ve even come a cropper there too.

Because even the formerly-known-as-dodgy-wasteland type car parks have brought in the sophisticated number plate systems too, and this is what happened to me there.

Forgetting I’d borrowed my mum’s car for an emergency dash into town, I inputted my own car registration into the machine, not hers.

This misdemeanour was enough to ensure a fine parking through the door a couple of weeks later from the private operator. I had PAID the correct amount though, and had a timed ticket/receipt to provide it – so naturally I appealed the fine.

But even with the evidence to PROVE I’D PAID they said I’d still have to pay – just at a reduced rate – to pay for their ‘admin costs’ for my failure to put the right number plate in. I WAS FUMING.

The fact is for me, and I’m sure many others, when traveling into Manchester alone I feel safer parking in an indoor, council or NCP car park, as close as possible to the location I’m going to, so I don’ t have to walk as far on my own at night. So, parking further out of town, or using public transport isn’t always the solution for me.

So why has parking your car in the city center become so difficult and so expensive? I say this as someone who has been parking in our otherwise wonderful city for the best part of 25 years.

I mean, it’s almost as if the powers that be don’t want us to drive into town at all isn’t it? And no, I’m not going to get into the CAZ can of worms here, but you can read about that to your heart’s content by clicking here.

Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not thick, I even have a degree would you believe (although admittedly not from Harvard). But I am finding these modern parking processes difficult. Mentally exhausted. Draining.

So I’m pretty sure others must feel this way too, and indeed my colleague Nick Jackson wrote about the rise of confusing parking Apps earlier this weekend too and how annoying they are. Please do share your own experiences, because as you might be able to tell, there’s nothing I love more than a moan about parking.

And don’t say “why don’t you just use public transport instead?” Because that’s a whole other story of tram, train and taxi nightmares that I can bore you with on another day.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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