Last edited 17 Nov 2020

Main author

Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Car parking in conservation areas

It is no longer necessary to paint lots of ugly yellow lines on a road in order to warn drivers that cars should not park. Image: a backstreet in Whitstable, Kent



Let’s get rid of all the cars. Why not? They are ugly, smelly and kill people. Look at a historic street in a conservation area and imagine it without the cars and traffic. The real quality of the place would shine through.

Sadly, there are many conservation areas where cars need to be parked, at least for the present. Here are a few ideas on how to integrate parked cars as effectively as possible into conservation areas, while conforming to current legislation and rules regarding cars parked on public land.

On-street parking

It is no longer necessary to paint lots of ugly yellow lines on a road in order to warn drivers that cars should not park. The government encourages councils to use an alternative method to control parking, especially in conservation areas. In a restricted parking zone, discreetly positioned, minimal information signs are all that are needed. The place on the road that should be used for car parking can be indicated by a subtle change in the texture of the road surface. If this technique is not desirable, strict enforcement may be needed.

Similarly, the length of road to be used for moving traffic should be obvious. In practice, drivers tend to respect the needs of other drivers and seldom leave a car where they think it will be damaged. The end of a parking bay on a street could be marked by a sculpture.

Off-street car parks

Car parks usually look like neglected dumps, which is a pity because they are often places where visiting drivers have their first impression of a place from the point of view of a pedestrian. In this sense, car parks are gateways. Some historic towns have traditional market places that are also used as car parks. At Devizes Market Place there are trees, seats, subtle lighting and, at its centre, a splendid historic monument where people sit and chat.

So, perhaps all car parks should be designed to be as welcoming. They could have trees and hedges for wildlife between the rows of cars. The bays for individual cars, as the National Trust has found, do not need to be marked out, because drivers tend to park quite neatly and efficiently without them. Finally, signage needs to be kept to a minimum. Most car parks have four times the number of signs they really need.

Devizes Market Place.jpg Car parking at Bury St Edmunds.jpg
A place to chat at Devizes Market Place. Image credit, Colin Davis. Car parking places indicated by different road surface texture in Bury St Edmunds. Image credit, Colin Davis.
Car parking in in Tallinn Estonia.jpg Sculpture in a Tallinn road.jpg
A car parking area with different road surface texture in Tallinn, Estonia. Image credit, Colin Davis. A sculpture indicates the end of a parking bay in a Tallinn road. Image credit, Colin Davis.

Practical implementation

How can we make all these things happen? The answer is that as they are actual examples, they are doable. The designs have been produced through a combination of car parking technology, landscape design and concern for conservation and the setting of historic buildings. They have all been designed and are being maintained with close interdisciplinary expertise and cooperation. These ideas of interdisciplinary cooperation are developed further with analysis of case studies in a book written by Colin Davis and titled Streetscapes, published by the RIBA.

About this article

This article originally appeared in IHBC's Context 150, published in July 2017. It was written by Colin Davis, an architect, planner and engineer –

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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