‘Cool Hand Luke’ starring the irrepressible Paul Newman in the title role, begins with the main character arrested for cutting the heads off parking meters, an act that gets him arrested and jailed.
I would very much doubt that those drunken yobs who smashed up the parking meters in the West Wales market town of Cardigan last month did so because of post traumatic stress syndrome from fighting in a brutal war. Indeed, it has been reported that they were merely looking for more beer money by breaking open the parking meters.
And whilst no one would condone such vandalism, the delay by Ceredigion County Council in repairing those meters seems to have led to unusual consequences that has resulted in greater economic activity across the town.
This is because more people have apparently been taking advantage of the lull in car parking charges to come to Cardigan town centre to shop, with local retailers benefiting from the increase in footfall, some by as many as 50 per cent in increased sales.
Not surprisingly, politicians have already looked at this unintended experiment as having the potential to develop a new policy to boost local shops. For example, Marcus Jones, the new high streets minister in the UK Government, has suggested that small town centres could become “parking meter-free zones” in an effort to save shops from closure.
Of course, there are those who clearly would object to any relaxation of parking laws with some anti-car lobbying groups suggesting that all the evidence shows that shopkeepers tend to seriously overestimate the proportion of customers that travel by car.
Unfortunately, most of the research they regularly quote against local free parking seems to be related to reports from major metropolitan areas such as London, New York and San Francisco rather than small rural towns where many people have no option but to take the car to go shopping for their weekly goods.
Perhaps this is where the problem lies, namely in the lack of detailed studies to measure the real benefits of making it as easy as possible for those living within our rural communities to access local services, especially within their nearest town.
Whilst cities such as Cardiff do need to get more people travelling by foot, bike or public transport, it is increasingly difficult to do the same within rural Wales especially as there is more chance of catching a cold than a local bus to your nearest shopping centre.
And whether campaigners like it or not, having a car is increasingly essential if you are living outside an urban area in Wales and the reality of this situation means that, unfortunately, it is unlikely to change in the near future.
Of course, the lack of free car parking is not the only issue affecting small retail shops. Online shopping has grown over the last few years with many small shops complaining that those who sell online do not have to pay the same high level of business rates.
Similarly, the large supermarkets often built on the edge of many towns do not charge for parking that, again, is a competitive disadvantage as compared to high streets where parking is restricted and charged for.
Whether policy should address these types of issues to address the increasing deficit in our high streets is clearly a debate that may be worth having.
In fact, there is probably no easy solution but as part of a town centre strategy, local authorities should not view parking provision as a short term method to raise money but more as a service for local people, and more importantly, as a way of supporting the high street in market towns across Wales.
For the retailers of Cardigan, it was inevitable that the grinding bureaucracy of local authorities would inevitably start working again and as of the beginning of last week, the parking meters have been repaired and are back in operation (and the price has even gone up).
Only time will tell whether the lull in car parking charges will have convinced more people to shop locally in this wonderful market town.
At least it has brought the issue of our declining high streets to the fore again and one can only hope that politicians will finally do something positive to address this in the near future.