Westminster Council don't win much approval on this blog, but the extended car parking charges and restrictions which will be imposed in the early 2012 gain a qualified nod. Westminster are doing the right thing - discouraging motor traffic - for the wrong reasons - to make money. Even though the policy is attracting considerable well-organized opposition, the Council are seemingly sticking to their guns although they have dropped plans to introduce the charges before Christmas.
Effectively, from January there will be no more free parking on Westminster-controlled streets at any time.
Westminster claim that the charges are necessary to deal with increasing night-time congestion. Which is interesting, coming from a council that opposed the London Congestion Charge. At Cycalogical, we're happy to forgive the sinner that repenteth, although we're a tad suspicious that the move has more to do with filling a hole in the Council's budget that any concern for the adverse impact of motor traffic on the capital.
By Westminster's own admission, this is a congestion charge. Unlike the actual congestion charge however, the proceeds won't go to improve public transport - they will go to keep council tax down for Westminster residents, many of whom are a lot more well-heeled than the average Londoner. Yet many more Londoners will be affected by the policy, which raises serious questions of democratic accountability. Most Londoners don't drive much into central London, so the effect will be broadly positive for them - less congestion equals faster bus journeys and a hopefully a better environment for pedestrians. On the other hand, people who have no option but to drive at night or on Sundays will be paying to park - a considerable sum for night workers. There will likely be displacement of car parking into neighbouring boroughs and possibly also onto TfL roads.
Businesses aren't happy with the policy. They see only the downside: the prospect that car-based trade will evaporate. In reality though, will it be that big a deal? Some erstwhile car-bound customers will switch to using public transport or cabs. Some will simply swallow the parking charges. Some may switch to nightlife outside Westminster. However, because this isn't a policy oriented to making the West End better for visitors (and therefore the businesses that depend on them), the Council don't have a good answer to the charge that new parking fees will kill trade. The policy would make more sense if Westminster acknowledged that congestion is just one unpleasant symptom of car dependency. If the streets of central London were more pedestrian-friendly, if there were more streets oriented towards dining, drinking, shopping and outdoor enjoyment rather than the passage of motor traffic, this would likely generate a lot more trade than would be lost as a result of parking or congestion charges. Indeed, it's businesses themselves that are calling for such a policy in Oxford Street and Regent Street. As it stands though, Westminster are opposed to cycling, opposed to 20MPH speed limits, opposed to traffic reduction or calming schemes, and ideologically opposed to anything that interferes with private motor traffic...except when they can make a couple of quid out of it.