Westminster Council's parking consultation 'contempt'

Westminster Council spent £400,000 preparing to charge drivers for weekend parking before consultations were complete, BBC London has learned.

The authority has faced protests over plans to charge for West End parking during weekends and evenings.

It has now emerged the six-figure sum was spent on signage despite residents' opinions still being sought.

Labour said residents had been treated with "contempt", but the Conservatives said the costs would be recouped.

Critics say the outlay on signage shows the consultation was meaningless in the first place and the council had already made up its mind to bring in the new charges.

'Total contempt'

It comes after a High Court judge allowed a Judicial Review into the scheme, saying it was possible the council's consultation period had been too limited.

The leader of Labour in Westminster, Paul Dimoldenberg, said: "Westminster's consultation has been shambolic and no wonder the High Court was so scathing of the council's efforts.

"The council has treated residents and businesses with total contempt with £300,000 having being spent on new parking signs even before the consultation period was over."

In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins wrote: "The consultation [carried out by Westminster Council] was arguably far too limited.

"There is a real risk of substantial damage to businesses and churches if it goes ahead."

The council first consulted the public and businesses last winter, then again in early summer.

The BBC has obtained a series of emails showing that, following those two consultations, it placed an order for nearly £300,000-worth of signage and legal documents to enforce the new policy.

Another £100,000 was spent on other associated start-up costs.

But other consultations with residents were still continuing.

A letter sent to interested parties on 14 November reads: "The purpose of this letter is to provide you with information about a number of traffic regulation orders which the council intends to make to provide you with an opportunity to give us your comments, and to explain what further consultation will take place."

The letter concludes that the council would be "happy to receive any representation in writing by 2 December".

By this time the new signs had already been ordered.

'Other people's money'

Paul Pearson, who has been campaigning against the fees, pointed out that if the council loses its High Court case the money will have been wasted.

He said: "They should have waited - they risked other people's money when all they had to do was wait a while longer.

"Ordering the signs before the consultation had ended shows blatant contempt for the consultation process - they clearly had no intention of listening to what people had to say and this is wrong."

Image caption The charges would operate until midnight Monday to Saturday, and 13:00 to 18:00 on Sundays

The leader of Westminster Council, Councillor Colin Barrow, said: "The judge rejected 10 of the 12 grounds for Judicial Review submitted by the applicants, but it does also require us to postpone implementation of the scheme, pending the full hearing.

"We are confident that we will be successful at such a hearing on the strengths of our arguments, the comprehensive consultation and the need to make central London less congested."

He continued: "Westminster Council has spent a total of around £400,000 on the changes to hours of parking controls in the West End.

"Should the scheme be implemented later in 2012, we anticipate recovering all but £25,000 of these costs."

The levy, from £2.20 to £4.40 an hour, would operate until midnight Monday to Saturday, and from 13:00 to 18:00 on Sundays.

Following the High Court ruling the scheme has been delayed from its intended start date of 9 January until after the Olympics.

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