Westminster Council's leader Colin Barrow steps down

By Tim Donovan
Political Editor, BBC London

image captionColin Barrow said he want to devote more time to other areas of his life

The council leader at the centre of a row over proposed parking charges in the West End is to step down.

Colin Barrow will resign as leader of Westminster Council and is considering his future as a ward councillor.

Plans to introduce evening and weekend parking charges were opposed by night workers, restaurateurs, clergymen and actors. The charges will now not be levied until after the Olympics.

Mr Barrow said he was resigning for "personal reasons".

He said: "I made this decision not to seek re-election for a second term last summer but I didn't want to announce it then and to leave my successor with the parking charges issue at the top of their inbox as they started their term.

"To make my decision public now allows a proper process to find my successor which had always been my intention.

"I am very lucky to have experienced the sharp end of business and politics but I will be 60 this year and I decided some months ago that I wanted to devote more time to other areas of my life.

"I intend to use some of my time to write and teach."

It is understood that he had originally intended to stand down after introducing the new charges.

Merging council services

The new levy, from £2.20 to £4.40 an hour, was to be introduced on 9 January. It was to operate until midnight Monday to Saturday, and from 13:00 to 18:00 on Sundays.

But the introduction of the new charges was postponed after the High Court ruled in favour of the campaigners opposing the levy by allowing a judicial review into the plans.

In the run-up to Christmas, opposition to the new parking charges gathered pace.

Barely a day went past without prominent figures voicing outrage in the Evening Standard, as part of an aggressive campaign by editor Geordie Greig.

The mayor Boris Johnson and his aides grew increasingly alarmed at the damage the flagship Conservative council's measures might do to his chances of re-election in May.

The situation was fraught with further political danger because Mr Barrow employs Mr Johnson's deputy mayor for policing, Kit Malthouse, at his finance company Alpha Strategic.

Mr Malthouse is a director of the company, whose offices are just a short walk from the Metropolitan Police Authority headquarters where he spends much of his time.

Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of Westminster City Council's Labour group, said: "For the past six months Westminster Conservatives have refused to listen to common sense and now Colin Barrow has paid the ultimate price for his poor judgment and failure to recognise the damage that his 'nightlife tax' parking charges would do to West End jobs and businesses."

Controversial decisions

Mr Barrow is a wealthy man who made his fortune in finance and previously worked for the Man group, one of the most successful hedge funds in the world.

Early in his leadership of Westminster Council he suffered embarrassment over losses the council incurred borrowing from Icelandic banks which collapsed.

But he was quickly seen as a dynamic figure who wanted to make his mark beyond Westminster City Hall.

He is a vociferous advocate of devolving more power and financial autonomy to local authorities.

He agreed a radical plan to merge some services with neighbouring Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Earlier this month Westminster Council generated fresh anger with its decision to convert nearly a fifth of single yellow lines in central London into double lines, which the council said would aid pedestrians.

Those opposing it said the move effectively restricted evening and weekend parking on these stretches.

But it was his decision to pursue the new parking charges that raised serious questions about his judgement.

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