Fury at Westminster's 'war on drivers'

Westminster car parking

Westminster council has been accused on placing an economy-dwindling 'tax on nightlife' by establishing controversial new evening and weekend parking charges.

The council is planning to scrap free parking in bays and on single yellow lines during off-peak hours and instead charge up to £4.80 per hour.
Currently, drivers in the west London borough can park for free between 1pm and 6pm on Sundays, and between 6.30pm and midnight Monday to Saturday.

The move has been roundly criticised, with the main political parties uniting against the Conservative-led council, including the Conservatives themselves. It has been pointed out that the charges could prove unlawful if it's established that they're for no purpose other than making more money from motorists.

Talking to the Evening Standard newspaper, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said: "Westminster council needs to be confident that it can persuade a court, if challenged, that these charges are primarily in order to meet their transport aims rather than fill a black hole in the council's coffers."

The London business community, including bars, clubs and restaurants, could lose millions annually if drivers choose to avoid the charges by staying away, prompting business secretary Vince Cable to urge the council to be "business-friendly" and reconsider.

Transport Secretary Norman Baker got straight to the point, calling the plans "vindictive in nature...you might even say that they constitute a war on the motorist."

But Westminster council insists that the charges are aimed at easing congestion, with council spokesman Lee Rowley hitting back: "Mr Baker has previously stressed that parking charges are a matter for local authorities and not something for the Government to intervene in."

Westminster's Colin Barrow, who says that "some roads in the West End are now busier at 10pm than at 10am," backed up the council's stance because "we think that less traffic on the streets will be better for business and healthier for workers, visitors and local people."

However, an initial study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests otherwise. "We certainly see a negative impact on trade," said Oliver Hogan, head of microeconomics. Lower paid evening workers will be disproportionally affected, says the study, because of the obvious need to pay for parking while they work.
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