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Westminster Postpones Parking Charge Changes Until After Olympics

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Westminster City Council will delay plans to introduce evening and weekend parking charges until after the Olympics, due to a judicial review of the new parking rates.

The new charges were to be introduced on 9 January 2012 but have been postponed after a High Court judge today (15 December 2011) ruled that a judicial review could take place into the way the council carried out its consultation process around the charges.

In a press statement Westminster council leader Colin Barrow said that as a result of the legal proceedings the council had "decided to postpone implementation of the new hours of control until after the Olympics even if we are successful at the judicial review hearing." Earlier reports suggest the judicial review hearing could start in March next year.

The plans would have seen charges from £2.20 to £4.40 per hour levied against parking until midnight on weeknights and Saturdays and from 1pm to 6pm on Sundays.

Critics have suggested the scheme would net the council £7 million in extra income, whilst Westminster insist the move is instead to keep streets "cleaner, safer and more vibrant". Barrow has previously been quoted as saying the council "do not and cannot legally run its parking service to generate revenue."

Implementation of the new rates has now been postponed twice, with Westminster City Council having previously pushed the date back from December 2011 to January 2012. The council will now face a judicial review into allegations it had made the decision to introduce the rates before proper consultation was completed.

Dubbed by commentators as a 'tax on nightlife', the new charges sparked outrage in Theatreland with producers and theatre owners Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh both condemning the move.

The Musicians Unions and actors' union Equity also spoke out against the plans, urging members to sign petitions against the weekend and night-time charges. A number of West End performers have told the press that they would fear for their personal safety if forced to make their late-night commutes without a car.

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com about news of the postponement, Equity assistant general secretary Martin Brown said: "Equity are delighted that for a second time Westminster City Council have paused for thought before bringing in parking charges. It is clear from the coalition of interests that have spoken out against these moves that they would be bad for the safety of performers and the West End in general."

Another prominent critic of the moves, president of West End trade body the Society of London Theatre, Mark Rubinstein said he praised "any possibility to pause and reflect to consider what has proved to be a deeply unpopular move," adding that he suspected the council were "surprised at the strength of feeling" in the campaign against the charges.

Rubinstein said implementation of weekend and evening parking charges would effect "people who work on stage, backstage and the audience - particularly weekend and family audiences." He added that "anything to encourage families to come to the West End had to be a good thing, and would be good for shops too."

A study commissioned by West End businesses had claimed that the charges could cost them up to £800 million in lost business and and put 5,100 jobs at risk. London theatres have also claimed that the new rates would discourage theatregoers and risk £70 million per year in ticket revenue.

In a statement about today's decision leader of Westminster City Council, Colin Barrow said: "The judge rejected 10 of the 12 grounds for judicial review submitted by the applicants, but it does also require us to postpone implementation of the scheme, pending the full hearing. We are confident that we will be successful at such a hearing on the strengths of our arguments, the comprehensive consultation and the need to make central London less congested.

“London faces many challenges in 2012 and we do not wish this public debate to become a distraction to preparations for the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. Westminster has an important part to play in both these national celebrations and will be devoting substantial effort to making them both a success."


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