Richard Caring, chairman of Caprice Holdings which manages several West End restaurants including The Ivy and Scott’s, has slammed Westminster City Council’s (WCC) decision to extend car parking charges in the area to midnight Monday to Saturday.
The new charges will take effect on 9 January 2012, meaning drivers will no longer be able to park for free in the borough after 6.30pm or leave cars on single yellow lines. Parking fees in some areas could be as high as £4.80 an hour – an annual cost of over £1200.
“It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Caring said. “I wish I was allowed to call it fraudulent. The council is not allowed to increase parking charges just for money' sake, but that's why they are doing it.
“The council is trying to raise £7m because they've been given budget cuts by the government. It's a very short-sighted, inane move because it will cost them an awful lot more in damage to businesses in the West End of London – dramatically so.”
Earlier this year and prior to WCC deciding to go ahead with plans, the British hospitality Association (BHA) wrote a letter to WCC deputy leader Robert Davis voicing the 'massive concerns' of restaurant and pub operators in the area.
And, following continued opposition from top chefs, night-time workers and even London Mayor Boris Johnson, WCC is being taken to the high court in the biggest legal challenge of its kind. The council is accused of having made up its mind to introduce the charges before proper consultation.
“The scheme is being carried along by two or three councillors who don't want to listen to anybody,” added Caring. “The Mayor is against it, the Transport Minister is against it, residents and businesses are against it.
“Hopefully they'll see sense.”
Westminster City Council told BigHospitality that the decision had been made because Westminster's roads are becoming increasingly congested at night. Councillor Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster City Council, said: "There are 17 different uses for our kerbside, and while the street spaces are finite, the demand to use them has increased. For example, we now know that roads in the West End are busier at 10pm than at 10am, and that the odds of finding a parking space on a Sunday in some parts of the West End are fewer than one in ten."
He said a wide range of business organisations, including the CBI had noted the negative impacts of congestion, adding: "We think that less congested streets will be better for business and healthier for workers, visitors and local people.We appreciate that this is an unpopular decision in some quarters. We are charging at times when parking was previously free, but we have a duty to manage the roads effectively and this is the first major review and change in policy that we have undertaken in ten years."