Churches oppose Westminster Sunday parking fee plan

Churchgoers have protested over plans to introduce parking charges they claim will hit central London congregations.

Conservative-run Westminster Council is proposing to charge motorists to park on Sundays and weekday evenings.

Church members say this will affect thousands of people who attend services and run community activities.

The council said it recognised the church's role in the community but it also had to provide a "reasonable expectation" of finding a parking spot.

Church members gathered outside a Westminster City Council meeting on Wednesday night in protest at the proposals.

Traffic demands

Currently, with the exception of some areas under 24-hour resident parking controls, parking charges in central London end at 1830 on a Saturday until Monday morning.

The council said its proposed parking policy addressed a number of complex issues, including managing the traffic demands of the West End, the availability of resident and visitor parking and improving loading and waiting facilities.

Councillor Lee Rowley said the authority had a "duty to everyone who lives, works or visits the heart of the capital to ensure they have a reasonable expectation of finding a place to park".

He said research showed it was now more difficult to park in some parts of the West End on a Sunday and weekday evenings than on weekdays.

But members of the church said many families and older people would not be able to afford to go to church if the charges were approved.

They claimed dozens of community projects, including support for the homeless, activities for elderly people, subsidised meals for the local community and activities for children and young people, would be affected.

Father William Pearsall, from Farm Street Catholic church, Mayfair, said: "Our volunteer community activities are really valuable and would present a huge loss to the local community if these plans affect our volunteers."

Michael Beckett, Church Warden of St George's in Hanover Square, said: "Sunday parking charges will seriously damage the spiritual heart of the city, and limit the good works undertaken by all the central London churches".

Churchgoer Stacey Hughes said: "Hundreds of volunteers and congregation members would be restricted from providing vital support to the community."

The results of a consultation on the proposal are being analysed and the council is due to make a decision in August.

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