Westminster Council snubs God for Sunday parking charges revenue

At a full meeting of Westminster City Councillors last Wednesday (20-Jul-2011) between 200 and 300 protestors stood outside Westminster Council house on the Marylebone Road. They were largely made up of members of the central London Churches along with members of the Salvation Army.

Westminster Council have been undergoing an extensive review of their parking policies, which include proposals to extend parking controls (charges) to weekday evening and Sundays. The Churches got together  to voice their opposition to the extended parking controls and in just a few short weeks collected over 3500 signatures for a petition which was handed in at last Wednesday’s meeting.

The Council have also received several hundred signed letters and email responses sent from casino employees concerning paying for parking after 6.30pm.

Despite the overwhelming opposition from the Churchgoers who have been providing compassionate volunteer work in central London years before David Cameron’s spin doctors even dreamt up the words ‘Big Society’, Westminster Council are set to snub their pleas, revealed in a cabinet report released today ( download from here ).

Westminster Council officers have recommended in their report the following key changes to parking for Councillor Lee Rowley to rubber stamp on the 1st August;

  • To extend, on an experimental basis on street parking charges from 6:30pm to midnight on weekday and Saturday evenings in Zones E and G for up to an 18 month trial.
  • To introduce, as an 18 month trial parking charges in Zones E, F3, F6 and G on Sundays between miday-6:30pm at the standard peak weekday fees.
  • 24-hour Monday-Sunday hours of control for residents’ bays to be introduced in Sub Zones F2 and F3.
  • Vehicles carrying blue and white disabled badge holders to be allowed to park on single yellow lines during these extended times.
  • To reduce the number of single yellow lines city-wide and consider their conversion to double yellow lines where appropriate.
  • The current concession, whereby residents’ parking permit holders are allowed to park free of charge in paid for bays for the first and last hours of control, be extended to the whole of the extended time period (i.e. 17.30-00.00).
  • To provide more taxi ‘hubs’ in Zones E, F and G if road space permits and more marshalled taxi ranks where road space permits but only if fully funded by third parties such as private businesses.
  • Delivery companies can purchase out of hours loading bays in Zones E, F and G.
  • Cost of residents’ parking permit per household for all vehicles, including electric vehicles to increase for each subsequent permit by around100% As there is no shortage of parking space if you can afford four cars.
  • Introduce a Visitor Parking Scheme in selected streets in Abbey Road Ward that enables visitors, carers and family members to park in Paid for Bays and under-occupied residents’ bays with a view to a phased extension across the city, as appropriate.

Council officers say the cost of implementing the policy proposals is around £0.5m and will cost a further £1m to make the changes permanent. They go on to estimate that the income arising from the recommendations to be between £4m-£7m per annum, and that’s what this is really all about, income.

Nutsville has mentioned before that the Council have an £8m hole to fill in its parking revenue stream, a large part of which was created by the very Council officers putting forward the new proposals.

No amount of signatures were ever going to change the Councils mind. With the ambitious Cllr Rowley eyes set on a long future in mainstream politics he is not going to go against the wishes of those able to help him up the greasy pole of politics.

In today’s report Council officers brush aside concerns voiced by the Churches and the Salvation Army with an air of contempt.

In the report the Churches say “the effects of Sunday parking charges would be extremely serious. In order to build up and sustain our church communities we need freedom of movement. Church-goers who are particularly vulnerable include families with young children, the elderly and anyone who needs a lift. In particular, the proposal would discriminate seriously against anyone on a low or even moderate income. The Church is of major benefit to society and represents irreplaceable social capital.”

Westminster Council officers simply point out if they can’t afford the new parking charges then they can use public transport: “Under the council’s spatial planning, transportation and environmental policy terms the visitors, customers, clients or attendees that are drawn from such a wide, non-local, catchment area would be expected to use public transport. …If the users of these other D1 uses came from such a wide area they would be encouraged to use public transport or other forms of non-car private transport. The council would not provide concessions such as free or reduced rate on-street parking.”

Council officers justify what is just in effect another parking tax by pointing to other faiths not getting concessions towards parking “It should be noted that for other religions and faiths whose holy days fall on other days of the week when controls and charges apply, no exemptions are granted. The availability of public transport, the capacity of off street car parks during the evenings and on Sundays, the concessions offered to blue/white badge holders, the elderly and the disabled on London’s public transport network, including black cabs, all contribute to mitigating any adverse impacts on families with young children, the elderly and the disabled.”

One memorable plea from a Church goer to Cllr Rowley at the recent St Georges Church public meeting was that surely we deserve one day a week where we are not taxed. In the report the Churches state: “Sunday is a day of freedom and of rest -Sunday is the day set aside in our country, and people consider this to be part of their way of life. On that day there is freedom to rest, to visit friends and family and to support a church community.”

The Council officer’s answer to that is “the council’s proposals do not prevent or take away an individual’s ‘freedom’ to visit friends and family and to support a church community. Officers have taken into account the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in this context. Under Article 9 of the Convention, which is enforceable in law by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to manifest one’s religion, in public or private, alone or in community with others These freedoms are subject only to such restrictions as are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It is not considered Article 9 rights would be infringed by these proposals, but any restriction there may be would be proportionate and justified in pursuit of a legitimate aim in any event.”

In plain Nutsville speak that means so long as the Council say it’s for traffic management purposes they’re in the clear and it’s all quite legal to tax you whenever they want, though they are a little worried about anyone deciding to bring a social exclusion case against them.

Did we mention the Council officers have an £8m financial hole to fill?

In the weakest of all defences for picking the pockets of the Church congregations the Council officers point to a few other towns which already have Sunday parking charges, almost saying from the school playground that ‘they started it first’ so we can do it as well.

It’s interesting to note that these very same Council officers who urge the elderly, the disabled and families with young children to get on the bus are provided with not only luxury cars but a free parking space in the underground car park beneath City Hall. In 2009 this FOI request revealed that Westminster Council officers spent £89,000 a year leasing themselves sports cars and Jaguars ( FOI Source ).

Over half of the Westminster Councillors’ help themselves to a borough wide free parking permit rather than suffer London’s public transport system. ( Source ) . Cllr Rowley gave up his free parking permit shortly after becoming cabinet member for parking, wise move.

You would think that after such an extensive not to mention expensive review of parking in Westminster the Council officers would have covered all the bases. So Nutsville would just like to ask about all of the motorcycle bays in central London. After 6:30pm Monday to Saturday and all day Sundays they become free for car drivers to park in.. So we would just like to ask these well paid Council officers what provisions they have made in their super report to prevent all the motorcycle bays not completely being filled with cars leaving two wheeled transport excluded from Central London entirely? Cllr Rowley was asked this question weeks ago, but he never gave an answer.

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