Alasdair Robertson is the founding Director of TownCentreParking. He gained a degree in Land Economics at Cambridge University in 1990, after which he joined Weatherall Green and Smith, where he worked in the investment valuation and rating departments. He then joined Strutt and Parker, where he qualified as a Chartered Surveyor whilst working in the investment agency department.
In 1995, having identified a gap in the market, he set up TownCentreParking, where he has worked since, establishing the company as the UK’s leading independent parking specialists.
James Thomlinson: How do the preferences of car park owners vary between leases to ‘blue chip’ operators versus owner-occupier or independent operators?
Alasdair Robertson: It depends on the owner’s circumstances and the property’s role. Debt funded owners typically need covenant strength in order to raise finance so are more inclined to let the car park to a blue chip operator. If revenue and value are ancillary and the property’s primary role is to provide a service i.e. a car park serving a shopping centre, then owners have traditionally operated the facility themselves. A softening of yields, a greater commitment to quality on the part of operators and improved lease terms means that, increasingly, owners are considering a lease, regardless of their circumstances and the property’s role.
JT: How has the level of investor demand for car parks, from both pension funds and other third parties seeking ‘revenue centres’, fluctuated during the last five years?
AR: It dipped slightly post-Lehman but generally has remained strong, owing to the growth potential, revenue security and relatively lack of supply.
JT: Do you have regulations to be a car park operator?
AR: Strictly no, but most operators fulfil a security role so have to be SI registered and, although it’s awarded to the car park and not the operator, most seek to obtain the Association of Chief Police Officer’s Safe Car Park Award at their facilities, which provides a benchmark for security and service
JT: Voltaire has received feedback from some of our developer clients that parking customers prefer to pay less to park in an independent car park than have clever capacity monitors/ lighting systems as offered by the bigger brands. How would you say that car parking rates have behaved over the past 10 years and what is your impression of customer preferences?
AR: The key determinant in choice of short stay car park is convenience (measured in terms of proximity to end destination – we’re all inherently lazy!) and not price, with the demand for well located short-stay parking therefore being relatively price-inelastic. I suspect that what the customer is tacitly saying is that they don’t really care about the above measures and therefore don’t want to pay for them. The demand for long-stay parking is more price sensitive as the sums of money involved are typically larger.
Tariffs vary widely, from town to town and within a town, with owners’ circumstances and the role of the car park being the key factors influencing the level. Regardless of the level, other than at car parks owned by indifferent local authorities or at those serving shopping centres that face competition from out of town schemes providing free parking, for as long as I've been involved in the industry (15 years!), tariffs have increased year-on-year, often substantially.
JT: Voltaire Financial has assisted clients with funding requirements for mixed-use schemes which included car park assets in the past. To what extent have we been correct in advising lenders that the level of construction risk when creating a (standalone) car park asset is minimised due to the simplicity of erecting the structure?
AR: I tend to agree, in that they’re simple, often pre-cast, concrete or steel structures. Notwithstanding, the detailed aspects of design are very important, both in terms of economic-life and in creating optimal conditions for revenue generation and service provision.