Jan 16 2012

Westminster “Nightlife Tax” Update

As many of you will already know, our fight against Westminster Council‘s proposed changes to weekend and evening parking charges in our West End (recently dubbed the Nightlife Tax by the press) has had it’s greatest boost in the resignation of the Council leader Colin Barrow. It was Mr Barrow who chose to ignore massive opposition from the public, local businesses and other ministers and push ahead with the changes which would have cost night workers and theatre-goers £4.80 an hour to park during the evening and killed the West End.

In fact, a recent article in the Evening Standard suggests that the opposition went even higher, with David Cameron poised to finally voice his own opposition before it was postponed just before Christmas. Boris Johnson has opposed the scheme from the outset, having warned Barrow that the proposals would come up against strong opposition when he first presented them two years ago.

I believe the official line is still that the charges will be postponed until after the Olympics. But with Council elections due in May and the scale of discontent stirred up by Mr Barrow, it is highly unlikely that his nonsensical proposals will ever see the light of day. Local Conservative MP Mark Field agrees, stating:

Given the furore, given the strength of the campaign by the Evening Standard, I would be very surprised if Colin’s successor runs along with this.

Colin Barrow still maintains that his departure was nothing to do with the Westminster parking debacle but due to personal reasons. With a plethora of Cabinet ministers voicing their opposition including Transport Secretary Justine Greening, Lords Leader Lord Strathclyde, transport minister Norman Baker and the PM’s business adviser Lord Young; as well as the majority of local businessmen, I find this highly unlikely. Hopefully now we have seen the last of these preposterous plans.

Meanwhile, Westminster Council have attracted fresh controversy by removing almost 5 miles of single yellow lines in the area and converting them to double yellow lines. This happened on the 9th January, mainly in Mayfair, Fitzrovia and Marylebone. Seemingly whilst nobody was paying attention. Presumably they are going to start doing this around the Soho area soon, as they have already proved they can get away with it. Restaurateur Richard Caring and shadow London minister Tessa Jowell have been leading the opposition to the move which campaigners say will lose 1191 free weekend and evening spaces in the West End. Converting to double yellow lines will essentially serve the same purpose as extending the charging hours as workers and patrons will be forced to pay for parking with no free alternative. This backdoor approach is simply not acceptable.

So with the departure of Colin Barrow, you would presume our West End is safe for now. We will all need to keep a close eye on Westminster Council and their sneaky policies and hope that Barrow’s successor has a more realistic and democratic view of how the West End works.

If you are interested in keeping up to date with news regarding this subject, I can highly recommend the We are against Westminster City Council new parking regulations Facebook page. They post regular links to news articles and interviews with those concerned. Well worth a look.

I will stop ranting about this soon and get back to the music bloggery very soon folks! Hopefully our voices have finally been heard and we can get back to the important stuff (like actually being creative!) now we have one less person in a place of authority trying to wreck our livelihoods…

Until next time…

Aug 7 2011

Westminster To Introduce Evening & Weekend Parking Charges: A Rant

Many of you, especially musicians, will already be aware of Westminster Council’s plans to introduce evening and Sunday parking charges in London’s West End later this year. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Until now there has always been free meter and single yellow spaces after 6.30pm and on Sundays. Like there are all around the country. Westminster Council proposes to scrap the free parking period until midnight during the week and up to 6.30pm on Sundays. They also plan to put the hourly parking rate up to a preposterous £5.00 an hour.

There has already been strong protest from local businesses, musicians and Westminster churchgoers, many of whom travel from outside the parish to attend services on a Sunday morning. I first heard talk of these proposals at the beginning of the year and assumed the plans had since been quashed but yesterday I learnt the plans were still being pushed through to be implemented towards the end of the year.

In these times of cutbacks in arts funding these measures will have serious impact on the currently thriving music and theatre scene in London’s West End. Many Londoners (especially the elderly) visiting the West End of an evening need to travel by car in order to get home at the end of the night as public transport link shut down and a taxi proves prohibitively expensive, not to mention those who live out of town.

Musicians like myself will find gigs in town (and we’re talking specifically about Soho, Covent Garden and Marylebone here) are no longer financially viable. The average common-or-garden jazz gig in town will pay between £40 and £80 per night. The extended parking charges would cost me an extra £20-£25 per night, not to mention the dreaded Congestion Charge if the soundcheck was before 6pm. Many London gigs would simply be wiped out as musicians and patrons are priced out of the West End by the sheer expense of the visit. I have no choice but to drive to gigs with all the large and heavy equipment I need to carry, plus the fact that I live out of town and have no easy access to public transport. I’m sure the last thing Westminster Council wants is for me to rock up at tube stations with a double bass and an amp. Not to mention the drummers… And at the end of the night when the tube and train services have stopped running, how are we meant to get home safely?

Dave Webster, of the Musicians’ Union, says

Musicians are often required to work unsociable hours and carry heavy and valuable instruments and equipment that makes it difficult and risky to use public transport.

Many of our members are self-employed and are not sufficiently well-paid to be able to afford the proposed extended parking charges.

Westminster Council have justified these planned measures by stating that it will keep traffic flowing through the capitol and raise up to 7 million pounds in additional revenue. They also state that many of the West End’s NCP carparks are empty of an evening. They obviously don’t know how much it costs to park there for a few hours. The amount of available spaces of an evening when you remove the single yellow spots from the equation simply do not add up. The whole plan smacks of money-grabbing with little or no regard for the visitors and workers that make that part of our city thrive of an evening.

This simply cannot be allowed to go through. I trust the Musicians Union and local businesses are doing all they can to prevent the charges coming into force before it’s too late.

The plans are currently set to go into place in December for an 18 month trial period. Just long enough to kill the West End…