Westminster Council leader apologises for parking fiasco

Cllr Colin Barrow uses his monthly Wood&Vale column to say sorry for “getting it wrong”

Managing congestion in the centre of a global city is a difficult task – but one that Westminster Council gets right 99 per cent of the time. But, after a period of reflection, now is the time to apologise for, on this occasion, getting it wrong.

My decision to turn back on introducing evening and weekend charges in the West End reflects that this is a council that is open to change and open to the views of its residents and businesses. Parking is always a controversial subject but we have listened and we admit that, in this case, we lost the debate.

No council ever “knows best” and we would never begin pursing any policy in a manner such as that. We started down the road we did because we believe that planning a sustainable future for the West End is a unique challenge that requires positive, forward thinking and tough decisions.

We accept that placing new parking charges on the public is not what London wants, or needs, during difficult economic times and business considerations needed to be more of a factor in our decision. We were pleased that Christmas sales were strong in our city, and we are keen to support their businesses in the future, but we have become increasingly concerned about the economic outlook – despite the West End’s resilience.

However, while our approach did not have public support, congestion in London is not going to go away and the capital is only going to get busier.

It is up to us to continue to try to meet the challenges we face by involving residents and businesses even more in the decision-making processes on tackling congestion, creating jobs and ensuring that the centre of London remains at the centre of British theatre, entertainment, shopping and culture.

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That is why we have announced the beginning of a new initiative – the West End Commission. We hope that groups, business owners and individuals who were against our parking plans and those that were for them will come and join us so that together we can drive London forward.

As councillors, we are trusted to manage the city in everyone’s best interest and we will continue to deliver on that trust long after I am gone. The council’s aim is clear: reduce congestion and improve roads and routes but manage parking in a human, common sense way. We have already seen the number of parking tickets fall almost by half over the past five years and reduced the parking-related CCTV coverage on the street. Above all, however, our priority is to provide a safe, clean and vibrant city that everyone can be proud of.

We are already under way. Initiatives to make road markings and signs clearer and to help make London safe for pedestrians are key priorities, as residents have rightly told us. Most recently, we have put in double yellow lines at junctions, dropped kerbs and narrow streets – exactly the changes we were asked to make by residents and community groups.

This is an indication of how we want to proceed. We want to continue engaging, discussing and taking joint action. We cannot satisfy everyone and we don’t pretend that we always will. But our decisions will be made with clear intent to improve the public realm and the conditions for workers, residents and tourists.

The West End Commission will give us policies that command public support, are the right thing to do and will, importantly, give a strong, fresh and independent perspective. We will invite a range of people, from Westminster residents to representatives of London’s cabbies to help us with that work.

As leader, I have seen many projects come to fruition that have improved the centre of our city – from the Piccadilly two-way scheme to the Exhibition Road improvements and the beginning of the Leicester Square regeneration project. This council will continue to identify projects to improve Westminster and never shirk the challenges. A successful Westminster means a successful London and, in turn, a successful UK.