Conservative-controlled Westminster City Council's parking controls, and particularly their most recent round of proposals, have generated more local controversy than almost any issue I can remember. And although much of what is proposed and under discussion relates to the west end, Westminster council's parking policies have an impact far wider than that specific local dimension.
That is becaise the issue of parking income, and how it is generated and distributed, needs to be seen in the wider context of revenue-raising and local taxation. As a result, everyone in the local authority of the London borough of Westminster has a legitimate interest in how that income is generated and used. Indeed, the wider issues of congestion, displacement and road management are important to everyone in the community.
It also matters because what happens to the economy of central London is a legitimate matter of concern for us all, since millions of Londoners are affected in their capacity as employees, workers, shoppers, business men and women, worshippers and people who enjoy the cultural and recreational opportunities that central London offers. It is in that context that the Westminster parking proposals have generated such an exceptional level of media interest, particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the Evening Standard. The Evening Standard has, I think, grasped what the majority party on Westminster council seems not to have grasped-that Westminster's financial problems cannot be solved by any means to hand, without a proper recognition of the impact on the wider economy of London.
It is for these reasons that I held a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons yesterday to discuss the issues surrounding Westminster City Council's latest round of parking proposals.
You can read that debate by clicking on the following link: http://bit.ly/AzRBuI
I entirely accept that parking income is a legitimate source of revenue-raising for local government, particularly given the severe constraints on the raising of income by other means, and the critical importance of maintaining decent services for residents.
However, the law is clear on the issue, and the law, common sense and political calculation all demand honesty and transparency in the process, as well as that the charges should be fair and proportionate.
There has not been adequate honesty and transparency about Westminster council's financial pressures, and Councillors have been found out.
They did not tell it straight to local people, but instead have given the impression that they have discovered the philosopher's stone-a way to provide comprehensive, quality services without an adequate tax base. They are paying the penalty for that mistake.