Council parking row over 'tax on nightlife'


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The Independent Online

Drivers visiting London's West End could be forced to pay increased charges to park overnight after the local council announced plans to ban parking on stretches of road "equivalent to" nearly 1,200 parking spaces.

The decision, which will force any drivers who would previously have used those areas to park overnight, into off-street parking, It comes despite a High Court order delivered only a week ago to shelve plans to introduce overnight fares dubbed a "tax on nightlife".

The council previously drew up a scheme to begin charging for parking on single yellow lines during evenings and weekends - which is currently free - but agreed to delay its introduction until after the Olympics after the judge said they risked damaging local businesses and allowed a judicial review.

Now, councillors say they will paint double yellow lines on nearly 8,000 metres of roadside currently designated as single yellow line areas, which council documents reveal is equivalent to sufficient space to park 1,191 cars.

After the High Court ruling last Friday, campaigners celebrated what they saw as the beginning of the end for the unpopular policy but yesterday afternoon, councillors made their eleventh-hour announcement.

Campaigners say the decision means that visitors to the West End's theatres, restaurants, clubs, casinos, as well as those who work there will have to pay to park on a parking meter or car park. A stay in an NCP car park in Westminster between six and 24 hours costs £40. The company which operates the council's car parks is offering a deal to allow drivers to park for £8.

Westminster City Council recently signed a contract with Q-Park, which runs its parking facilities, which included a "turnover rental provision", meaning the company pays more in rent to the council, the more it earns from operating the car parks.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said: "This is an outrageous decision to take just hours before the Council closes for Christmas. The arrogance of Westminster's Conservative leaders knows no bounds. They will listen to nobody and are even trying to get round a High Court judgment. This is the unwanted 'Christmas present' for the West End

"The removal of so many single yellow line parking spaces in the West End will effectively force many visitors and staff working in the West End evening economy to pay extra. This is a back door way of introducing the parking charges and there must be a question if the Council is in contempt of court.

"Removing single yellow lines is not about making it safer for pedestrians or drivers, but it is all about reducing free parking spaces and thereby raising extra money for a Council that is in deep financial difficulties."

Westminster Council cabinet member for parking and transport Cllr Lee Rowley said: "These are important changes which we hope will make it clearer for drivers to park, easier for pedestrians to get around and be a vital help for disabled people, parents with buggies and older people who are trying to cross the road. We are keen to make Westminster a safer place for pedestrians and help drivers avoid parking where it may be unsafe or inconsiderate to others.

"The West End is one of the busiest places in London, 24-hours a day, and these steps will help us to alleviate some of the problems we face - we want streets that are clean, safe and vibrant."