JOYOUS music drowned out the drone from Marylebone Road as churchgoers opposed plans to introduce parking fees that priests fear could decimate congregations.
On the steps of Council House on Wednesday hundreds waved placards urging politicians to ditch the proposals to charge motorists to park on Sundays and weekday evenings.
Lee Rowley, city council cabinet member for parking, said current controls meant motorists found it hard to find a parking space, but Christians warned that thousands of people who travel into central London to worship or run community events could be deterred.
Father William Pearsall (pictured on page 1) of the Farm Street Catholic Church in Mayfair said: “So many of our congregations depend on people getting to the churches by car, especially families, and many of the churches are in areas that are not primarily residential any longer. They therefore depend on freedom of movement on Sunday mornings.”
Michael Beckett, church warden at St George’s in Hanover Square, said: “We only learned of these proposals very recently, as did many other churches, and have not had the opportunity to voice serious concerns. Sunday parking charges will seriously damage the spiritual heart of the city and limit the good works undertaken by all the central London churches.”
Hymn tunes courtesy of the Salvation Army’s brass band maintained high spirits among the crowd, and bikers from anti-motorcycle parking fees group the No To Mob rolled up to add their support.
Some of them booed and hissed when Councillor Rowley arrived, drawing rebukes from some Christians. Inside the council chamber, West End councillor Glenys Roberts, who presented a petition against the fees signed by thousands, asked Cllr Rowley: “I was wondering if you could tell me how much money you could raise for the council by the proposed charges for parking on Sundays.”
He said he could not but predicted figures would be published in due course.
A decision on the proposals is due on August 1.
Currently drivers can come into Westminster at 6.30pm on a Saturday and stay parked in a bay until Monday morning.
Cllr Rowley said: “We, of course, recognise the place of the church in many people’s lives and the local community but we have a duty to encourage everyone who lives, works in or visits the heart of the capital to ensure they have a reasonable expectation of finding a place to park. In some parts of the West End, research shows that it is now more difficult to park on a Sunday and on weekday evenings than it is during the working week. We have consulted on a number of proposals to address how we can tackle this growing problem and are now working through the feedback provided before making any decisions.
“It is key that the solution is led by the facts. Only this will ensure we have parking policies fit for the next decade.”
Published: 22 July 2011
by JOSH LOEB