Roads in America were often built with a green verge or ‘park strip’ and stopping there was called ‘parking’. The term took on a quite literal meaning in Plymouth’s Central Park soon after the swimming pool opened in May 1965.
The first phase of the pool’s construction included a new access road that led from Mayflower Drive off Outland Road and a small number of parking spaces next to the pool. The second phase of work was to include a new car-park for 110 vehicles but, until then, swimmers and spectators were expected to use the main car-park on Outland Road and walk to and from the pool, a distance of about 300 yards.
Signs on the new access road to the swimming pool read “NO ENTRY FOR PRIVATE VEHICLES”
With the approach of winter, officials of local swimming clubs who ran evening sessions complained that children had to emerge from a warm building into the cold night air and cross the park in the dark in all weathers. The Western Evening Herald took up the matter with the Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee who agreed that cars carrying children could park next to the swimming pool during the hours of darkness in winter.
This concession was extended to anytime in 1966 and by the start of 1967, there were complaints of too many cars coming into the park. On one occasion, the secretary of the Joint Road Safety Committee noted that there were 33 cars parked near the swimming pool and more towards the clock tower, apparently to use the golf course or bowling green.
In August 1968, the Council decided to introduce a system of parking permits. The permits in different colours would enable a restricted number of people to drive to the parking area next to the swimming pool. All vehicles on the pool access road had to display a permit and the system initially appeared successful in keeping traffic movements to a minimum.
The Mayflower Leisure Centre was built in 1970 and it included a limited amount of new parking. Soon afterwards, complaints about traffic in the park re-surfaced and in 1974, the Council’s Leisure Services Committee recommended a complete ban on all private vehicles although this was rejected by the full Council when referred in July 1974. The original sign declaring “NO ENTRY FOR PRIVATE VEHICLES” remained in place for at least another year, however, and the arguments continued.
In 1978, a planning application by the Mayflower Trust for another sports hall extension was approved with the condition that parking for 100 cars be provided. The idea of more green space being taken over by tarmac caused much unhappiness among park users as well as members of the Council’s Leisure Services Committee.
The projected car-park was still unbuilt when the City Engineer’s 1981 report cited lack of parking and traffic movements as the top priority, and by then, it was quite common to see cars using the clock tower roundabout for turning round. The City Engineer recommended that a new car-park for 200 cars be built on the west side of the Mayflower Centre and this was completed circa 1986. It encroached on the playground at Milehouse corner, so this was closed, and a new, smaller playground made between the swimming pool and the clock tower changing rooms.