Westminster’s parking charges divide residents, businesses and councillors

By News Reporters

Resident parking sign.

Westminster City Council's plans for changes to parking charges and restrictions have been put on hold.

Westminster City Council's proposal to introduce weekend and evening West End parking charges has generated a fire storm of protest from businesses, casinos, and City of Westminster's Labour councillors. Things came to a head this week when the High Court forced the council to delay its parking charges until after the summer of 2012, and granted campaigners against the charges a judicial review.

Westminster City Council issued a statement about the court’s decision:

There is a very real problem with traffic congestion in the West End and we continue to stand by that. We are confident that we will be successful at the Judicial Review hearing on the strengths of our arguments, the comprehensive consultation and the need to make central London less congested.

Westminster’s Labour Councillors welcomed the High Court decision. Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said:

 The High Court has ordered Westminster to halt its plans, and for very good reason. Over 95% of people are opposed to this damaging parking proposal and the Council should now have the common sense to stop before it does any further damage to businesses, residents and churches. A delay in bringing in the new West End charges until after the 2012 Olympics, Paralympics and Diamond Jubilee celebrations is the very least that the Council should now do. The fact that Mr Justice Collins has explicitly identified both the damaging impact on businesses and churches and the poor consultation should force Westminster to undertake a fundamental re-appraisal of its plans that have provoked an unprecedented coalition of opposition.

Straddling both boroughs, Fitzrovia is stuck in the middle of all of this and with the neighbourhood having among the lowest car ownership rates in the UK, and very poor air quality, Westminster’s potential parking charges have brought about a mixed blessing, as far as residents are concerned. Many of those living on the Westminster side would welcome the extra restrictions while residents on the Camden side fear an increase in circulating traffic looking for free parking spaces.

Now Camden Council, it has been reported, may also introduce charges to offset the extra amounts of drivers looking to park in Camden’s streets if Westminster City Council succeeds in pushing through its charges. Camden’s deputy leader Sue Vincent said she would not rule out future charges similar to Westminster’s.

Most Fitzrovia residents have been reluctant to speak out about the proposed parking changes but one Mayfair resident was not so timid. Ron Whelan of the Mayfair Residents Group wrote to the West End Extra to express his dismay at Westminster Labour councillors:

As usual with Cllr Dimoldenberg, he makes absolutely no reference to the plight of West End residents who have to suffer the awful consequences of unrestricted free parking.

His obvious sympathies for casino owners and restaurant owners such as Richard Caring are quite extraordinary coming from a socialist.

Did he put forward such vehement arguments when Ken Livingstone brought in the Congestion Charge?

I somehow doubt it.

The West End is the most polluted part of this country and it is high time that all the people who create this pollution should contribute towards meeting this social cost.

Ron Whelan has a point and Mr Justice Collins in his observations noted that while there was “overall disapproval” of the charges this did not extend to residents. That’s not to say that all residents are in favour of Westminster’s proposals. Far from it, they seem to be divided.

West End ward councillor Glenys Roberts told readers in her blog for the Daily Mail that she is alone among Westminster’s Conservatives in opposing the parking charges, and she argued that it would be bad for residents, too:

Some of [the residents] started by thinking the new policy would leave the streets empty for their benefit and that they at least would always be able to find a parking space because there are dedicated residents’  spots.  But the fact is the Council has sold more permits than there are dedicated spaces – some 2,000 more of them.  So everyone will be vying for too  few meters – or having to stay out till after midnight when the yellow lines are free again. And they must remember to  be out again before 8.30 in the morning, when charges start again, ready to find a place for their cars along with everyone else.

But one thing is certain, Fitzrovia on both the Westminster and Camden side has extremely low levels of car ownership and we are well-served by public transport. And outside of the parking restriction times, residents do complain that  Fitzrovia’s streets are frequently clogged (and often blocked) with people parking in our narrow streets. The recent traffic consultation done by Camden Council at the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre attracted a number of people who are concerned with traffic levels and pollution in the neighbourhood, especially when there is so much public transport on offer. This issue is not going to go away.

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