The council had planned to put a stop to free parking for motorists in the borough after 6.30pm but the proposals sparked a storm of outrage from residents, local business and even the church. London mayor Boris Johnson also added his weight to the opposition after it looked like the Tory council could embarrass his mayoral election campaign.
Their plans thwarted, the council then tried a new tack – removing single yellow lines which allowed free parking at evenings and weekends and replacing them with double yellow lines. Needless to say, this attracted further criticism, ‘dishonest’ being just one from the church. The fiasco wasn’t quite over yet though; after being challenged on the discrepancy between the number of parking spaces Westminster council said it would lose to double yellow lines and the actual number lost, the council’s commissioner for transport Martin Low, admitted that they had ‘misunderstood’ an email which set out the figures. Over the weekend, council leader Colin Barrow announced he was stepping down from his post, though he insists his resignation is not connected with the parking row.
But Labour councillors say that the Westminster has run up a £1m bill, including £300,000 for the cost of hundreds of new street signs which were ordered in August 2011 following the council’s original decision to introduce the new £4.80 per hour parking charge (yet before the results of the consultation were known, indicating a determination to introduce charges whatever the outcome) and scrap 8,400 free single yellow line parking spaces. In addition, the council has spent money on the consultation exercise and presumably on the legal costs of defending the judicial review brought against them. The costs of laying down the double yellow lines over the past couple of weeks will also add to the bill. Councillor Lee Rowley said:
“What we have to try and do in Westminster is to make sure that the city works, so we’re going to listen and create a West End Commission, where we hope all of those people who have been interested in this particular issue – those people who have agreed and disagreed with it – will come in and give us their views to make sure that we can keep Westminster working in 20 years’ time.”
Ougoing councillor Colin Barrow also said:
“We have listened to Londoners in the interests of the wider economy and will scrap the charging plans.”
Had the council listened when the local community first objected to the proprosed charges, the taxpayer might have been saved that hefty bill.