Westminster go-ahead for controversial M/C Parking Tax that is set to hit all UK riders – but it also opens doors for serious legal challenges…

Posted: 14th January 2010 | 7 Comments »

DC smile pic copy2 Westminster go ahead for controversial M/C Parking Tax that is set to hit all UK riders – but it also opens doors for serious legal challenges...So, Westminster City Council (WCC) have finally decided to go-ahead with plans to make their ‘experimental’ and unprecedented pay-by-phone M/C parking tax a permanent measure. The decision by Cllr Danny Chalkley (right) to authorise new Traffic Orders to do this – as recommended by officers led by ‘this is not a revenue stream’ Alistair Gilchrist (left), will take effect on 25th January. Gilchrist warden copy2 Westminster go ahead for controversial M/C Parking Tax that is set to hit all UK riders – but it also opens doors for serious legal challenges...Of course this is potentially very bad news for all UK riders as it could trigger a nationwide roll-out of new bike parking charges. If such charges do go nationwide it could cost the motorcycling community a staggering £93,000,000 per year, according to the Tax Payers Alliance who support objectors to what they see as a tax in all but name. But there is some good news. The leading opponents of the move NTBPT say that the WCC decision also opens doors for legal challenges on a number of fronts.

So, although WCC may regard the matter as closed by their decision, this is not the case as far as I am concerned and i am delighted to report that I am far from being alone in that view. And as I’ve reported a few days ago, some scallywags in our midst have been so angered by what they see as a totally unfair and unjustifiable scheme, that they have gone to the extremes of taking the law into their own hands. Within two days of me and other biker bloggers breaking news about this move, many signs explaining how the scheme works at M/C parking bays had been defaced. And, as regular visitors here will know, these shocking acts made the controversial charges technically unenforceable within UK Traffic Act regulations. But the facts as I see them are that the vast majority of protests and objections have been made in legitimate forms and superbly led by the NTBPT and their thousands of supporters who are the focal point for opposition to Westminster’s regressive scheme.

And, although I and others concerned with this nasty rider’s tax must stress that we can’t condone actions that cross the line into any forms of illegal activity, it was cheering to hear NTBPT chairman Warren Djanogly’s initial response to news of the WCC decision, which in his in his generally robust campaigning style was to say to me. “Let battle commence!” Now though, Warren has spoken in more measured tones to identify the basis for further challenges and work to get the charging scheme scrapped. “Cllr Chalkley’s decision to make the scheme permanent has opened a window for us to launch a full legal challenge.” In a nutshell what this means is that NTBPT are now proceeding with legal challenges having already raised the magnificent sum of £30,000 for a ‘fighting fund’ to cover legal costs.

One challenge is in the form of a formal demand for an official Public Inquiry into the legitimacy of the ‘experiment’ on which WCC based their decision to press ahead with the scheme. Other NTBPT challenges have prompted the District Audit Office and the Office of Fair Trading to investigate their claims and outlines of evidence that the council has breached various regulations that govern procurement and tendering procedures for UK local authorities. And, as my news story for MSL magazine highlighted, the EU Commissioners are also investigating what WCC may have been up to that wasn’t quite the way it should have been.

Yesterday I did the decent investigative thing and called WCC to get the latest on what Danny Chalkley had to say about his latest move . As you’d expect, he defended his decision and told me that he ‘understands’ that “charging to park is not popular with some motorcyclists”, but he also claimed that “it is fair and reasonable that motorcyclists, contribute to the cost of improvements and the maintenance of transport infrastructure.” But I have a big problem trying to accept this line of argument. In fact, as far as I can see, Danny has a big problem with it too. After all, as we all know now, thanks to diligent probes and many Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, the facts of life about the money already extracted from rider’s pockets show that this argument is unsustainable to say the least – and complete and utter tosh to be a tad more accurate.

The relentless barrage of  FOI requests forced the council to admit that they have already taken over £2 million from riders during the ‘trial’ of the charges. And even by their well spun calculations, WCC Inc. have already trousered a net surplus of at least £500,000 after all costs of ‘improvements’ and setting up their ultra sophisticated pay-by-phone system have been paid for.

So where are we now? Well, in the course of my attempts to scrape a living from writing about the stuff that bothers UK riders today, I did a round up of what the key players in our rider’s rights groups think and have to say.

What do Rider’s Rights groups and the Motorcycling industry say and call for now?

Updated Friday 15 Jan, 08.45 The first comments on this blog have been about the UK Motorcycle Industry’s position during the course of this campaign and now. In the light of that I have added a link to the MCIA page explaining their position in full and add what I regard as the most pertinent section immediately below and prior to my summary posted last night. I will be talking to the MCIA spokesman for Public Affairs soon,  hopefully today, and will encourage the industry to update it’s position now that WCC have decided to go-ahead with their scheme whilst retaining the ‘demand management’ objective as an official reason to impose new extra charges for the use of motorcycles and scooters in Westminster.

From MCIA Policy statement

“MCI is concerned that the justification for the parking charge may have moved from being one of paying for improved parking service provision for motorcyclists, to one of ‘demand management,’ intended to deter motorcycle use. WCC officials have sought to assure the Association that the basis of the charge is service provision.

However, the current Westminster CC ‘Unitary Development Plan’ (UDP) specifically states that parking charges for motorised vehicles are levied on the basis of ‘demand management’. MCI is opposed to many of the principles of the ‘demand management’ philosophy, as this has often been used as an excuse to discourage powered vehicles and in particular PTWs, and is urging WCC to clarify and resolve this apparent contradiction.”

Back to original summary…

Let’s start with the The Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA). And yes I know that there are some riders & campaigners who have been a bit frustrated by a somewhat restrained level of action regarding the M/C parking tax issue so far. But the MCIA position as I understand it is quite clearly that it wants the scheme withdrawn because a key official objective for the charges, in Westminster’s core policy document called the UDP,  is to ‘manage demand’ for M/C bays by introducing ‘fees’ to deter riders from parking and therefore using PTWs on central London streets.

MAG’s General Secretary, Nich Brown, put the debate over bike parking fees into a clear perspective earlier today and offers good advice about what riders can do and says this. “The argument that riders should pay to park on roads operated by local councils, is fundamentally flawed. Riders pay far more in taxes than the benefit they receive when using the roads. Every year the councils raid the money they should be spending to make roads safer for motorcycles by ensuring road repairs last more than five minutes and providing non-slip manhole covers and access to bus lanes.” He then added that “Until all councils ‘think bike’, there can be no question of charging to park on the street.” Nich then suggests that “MAG’s RAV campaign (supported by BMF and MCI) is giving thousands of riders an opportunity to quiz would-be MPs and councillors. ‘Why should I give you my vote?’ is one of the most powerful ways to get what we want.” (http://www.ridersarevoters.org)

Now as far as chairman of the NTBPT Warren Djanogly is concerned he has said this. “Cllor Chalkley’s decision to make the scheme permanent has opened a window for us to launch a full legal challenge. It’s going to be expensive but if just 5,000 bikers contributed £10 each (less than a tank of fuel), we can beat this evil stealth tax.” In response, the BMF has called on all UK motorcyclists to chip in whatever they can. Chris Hodder, the BMF’s Government Relations Executive said. “These parking charges run contrary to the Government’s aim to ‘mainstream’ motorcycling but the only option now available is to overturn the scheme in the courts. If we don’t, this could spell the nationwide end of free parking for motorcycles. Now is the time to stand up and be counted and support the NTBPT fighting fund.” Currently the fund stands at £30,000, but needs at least another £20,000 to meet the expected minimum legal costs of £50,000.

Finally, MAG’s campaigns co-ordinator Paddy Tyson summarises the current situation in a way that I agree with wholeheartedly. “The serious nature of this situation really shouldn’t be underestimated. MAG understands that all local councils are underfunded, but motorcycling is certainly not the resource they should turn to as an extra source of revenue.” He adds. “PTWs can help local authorities actually reduce costs, by reducing congestion and infrastructural damage as well as emissions, so motorcycle and scooter riders shouldn’t be penalised and discouraged. MAG fully supports NTBPT and urges councils around the country not to  adopt a policy which in essence is counter productive.”

Westminster’s top dog Colin Barrow leads Tory Cllrs who want a ‘Magna Carta for localism’ but is this good for the people or good for them?

Posted: 12th January 2010 | 4 Comments »

Colin Barrow1 Westminsters top dog Colin Barrow leads Tory Cllrs who want a Magna Carta for localism but is this good for the people or good for them?News is breaking today that top Tory Cllrs are making their final push to get a  ’Magna Carta for localism‘ embedded in the Conservatives pre-election manifesto.

This could be very good news for UK riders in my view but not in a way that Cllr Barrow would like it. It is only fair to assume that many conservative councillors and MPs are in favour of a ‘localist’ emphasis – on the basis that it will help ensure that policy decisions are made in the best interests of people where they have greatest impact – namely at local level. But, and I have to say it’s a very big but in my view, there is often a very big gap between the real motives that politicians have for increasing political power at local level, and the seemingly well meant theories that can reassure us that everything they plan will be as lovely as it can be.

The last time I spoke to Barrow was before an exceptionally well attended full council meeting in which the ‘experimental’ motorbike parking charges/tax scheme was to be reviewed. He told me that his officers (led no doubt by Alastair Gilchrist ‘this is not a revenue raising exercise’ ) said that Westminster had ‘problems’ with meeting demand for bike parking in the borough. I told him that there was a simple solution to all these ‘problems’ and that is to look at what all comparable cities do. Throughout the EU and most of the developed world, local authorities recognise the invaluable positive role that scooters and motorcycles play in modern towns and cities – and do not see riders as a potential target for new taxes. Very sensibly and rightly, most transport authorities outside the UK allow riders to park without extra charges in the abundance of places they can use without causing inconvenience to anyone or cost to the council. Barrow looked nonplussed at my suggestion and could find nothing to say apart from “Oh, I see” Not quite true of course because it was clear to me that neither he nor his officers had bothered looking for ‘solutions’ that didn’t involve creating a new tax.

Now though, in addition to various other challenges ahead for Barrow he may have a new and real problem. His fellow top Tory Councillors and key parliamentarians may start taking a very dim view of his council’s plans to pioneer a brand new local tax – to ‘solve’ a bike parking ‘problem’ that doesn’t exist in any other world city. The real problem for Barrow and us all is that Westminster council has always led the way in screwing all the money they can, from any group of road users they can, in the form of parking ‘management’ and highly profitable privatised enforcement. But if the new Tory Magna Carter ends up being seen as a charter for councillors to impose more localised taxes, and especially on vulnerable road users in the form of PTW riders, it may not seem quite as attractive to the electorate as it’s promoters hope. This latest development of a new ‘Magna Carter’ and controversial measures for enforcement also begs other questions. Not least important of these concerns the way Cllr Barrow will be seen by his fellow politicians and the great British public. Will he be hailed as a ‘people power’ Baron or slide into disfavour as a greedy King John?

Revolting bikers and scooter riders escalate reactions to bike parking tax

Posted: 5th January 2010 | 8 Comments »

defaced parking sign 225x300 Revolting bikers and scooter riders escalate reactions to bike parking taxOh deary me. It looks like some motorcycle and scooter riders are revolting again in the central area of London called Westminster. But the latest reports indicate that recent action is being conducted with more vigour than ever to show feelings of disapprobation with the motorcycle and scooter parking tax that is currently still ‘on trial’ in the richest borough in Britain.

As you can see here (new window) or, with an uber soothing soundtrack here, reports abound with news that things are not going well for the pioneers of this tax. On the other had of course I have to say that these acts of vandalism/changing sign of the times may well be construed as revolutionary art by some but others may take a dimmer view.

Whatever view of these events you may take, I can’t imagine feeling especially comfortable if I was councillor somewhere else and was considering the introduction of this new type of tax scheme in my neck of the woods. But hey, what do I know about the inner workings of local government policy shaping forces? Could be that this is just the sort of goad an elected member might need to feel lucky and just go for it – and hang the consequences…

All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control ‘pubic opinion’ can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals…

Posted: 28th December 2009 | No Comments »

All Quite on Western Front cropped copy All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control pubic opinion can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals...As supporters of the Rage Against the Machine campaign have just shown, even the most powerful and smug controllers of what the public have to accept here in Britain, can be humbled by effective protests that are coordinated via the internet.

Getting those who have great influence to make better distinctions between having the power to manipulate, ‘control’ or simply ignore public opinion – and whether they are right to use it for their own ends – is always a battle. But it sure feels good to see one of those battles won for a change in the music world.

And, albeit on a smaller scale, I think this has an intriguing relevance to the ongoing saga of Westminster City Council’s (WCC) attempts to pioneer new high-tech systems to tax riders of motorbikes and scooters – by making them pay to park on the public roads that they have already paid many times over to use. I have just learned that Cllr Danny Chalkley has now got the latest and final version of his ‘Officer’s Report‘ in to consider.

This reviews events so far, as far as the council officers see them, and recommends whether WCC should make their ‘experimental’ rider’s tax permanent. Danny had asked for a re-write of the previous version of report which recommended going ahead with the new tax. That followed various private meetings and comments from NTBPT, MAG, BMF, and yours truly. This demand for a re-write prompted a glimmer of hope for some of us that sense would at last prevail and the power of arguments that a new UK rider’s tax would do far more harm than good, would finally be recognised. But no…

I have now read the report and can tell you that all it’s author did was add a few spurious responses to key criticisms and the recommendation to go-ahead with this potential new stealth-tax stands. Critically though, and I have already told Danny this, some of these responses will create a new focus for problems if, as I suspect they will, WCC decide to plough on with trying to get away with keeping this new revenue stream flowing. I gather though that DC’s decision will now be made early in the new year, so more on that when it happens. In the meantime, I will carry on with my reflections on recent doings.

Gilchrist note 300x231 All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control pubic opinion can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals...From what I have seen so far, on the inside and the outside, it strikes me that there are strong parallels between the way that Simon Cowell of X Factor fame carries on – and the contemptuous attitudes to public opinion that are exhibited by some in Westminster who are involved with pushing this regressive tax on users of Powered Two Wheelers (PTW) – which are IMHO a vital, green and highly efficient mode of transport – especially in our congested towns and cities. However, it is worth noting that although Cowell has a bit of egg on his face, he is doubtless a great deal richer nevertheless – and smart enough to continue raking in loads more cash. And frankly, if folks want to keep spending their hard-earned on keeping Simon in the luxurious lifestyle to which he is accustomed, so be it. I am not a fan of telling anyone what to do with their cash.

What I’m still pondering though is how far the parallels may run. Will the sometimes smug controllers inside Westminster City Hall get away with no egg on face? There could well be a lot of egg to come from various sources. These include the ongoing and escalating campaign of protests organised by NTBPT and splinter groups like the RATS – and the outcomes from various legal challenges that are already being investigated and one that is waiting in the wings if the scheme goes permanent.

Perhaps most important question of all though is whether Westminster’s controllers are smart enough to cut and run if that is actually the best thing to do for all concerned, or to try and dig themselves into the trenches while they keep raking in the cash no matter how much egg gets thrown.

Far be it for me to predict or proscribe what will happen next, but I just found a little something that may show how smart or inappropriately smug the bike park tax pioneers are. While on a hunt for something else on the web, I found some extraordinary admissions by our hero/villain of the hour, Alistair Gilchrist. Now I doubt that any of these will surprise those who read my musings – but the fact that they are just sitting there may at the very least raise a wry smile. Anyway, according to Alistair, Westminster City Council were the bad boys on the UK’s billion pound parking enforcement industry block back in 2003. He made this admission as the senior officer responsible for parking services in a recent conference and his Power Point Presentation can be seen in all its glory here.

Alistair was clearly so confident at the time about the council’s plans to expand the scope of parking tax schemes that he showed examples of public anger at the council’s abuse of its power in the ‘bad old days’ – and this note (left) of what some of the public really think about promises that all will be fine in the future. The question now is, was he right to be so confident then or now?

It seems to me that despite great efforts to rid themselves of that ‘bad boy’ parking cash-cow squeezing image, the reputation of those in charge of parking controls in the heart of London could be about to plunge to even greater depths. If it soldiers on with this new tax scheme, the council will have to face more battles and on several fronts. The audit commission has begun investigating the way that contracts were awarded to Verrus, and the EU Commissioners are about to start their own investigation into other complaints about the way hat this was handled.

So, all of us who are concerned with or about the prospect of new taxes for PTW riders are left with a few questions to consider. Will Westminster City Council now decide that it’s ‘experiment’ to impose a new tax on motorbikes and scooter riders is not really the best way to go – and especially in very tough times for most of us? Or, will they continue to try and get away with making it a permanent and growing part of UK life for riders, and a new source of revenue stream for a council near you? Or, lastly for now, will rage against this new tax machine prototype become the ultimately decisive factor?

* This headline has a root in the title of a film & book called All Quite On The Western Front. This is in part about gaps in understanding of reality between front line fighters & those in power who create situations in which hard battles sometimes need to be fought and won. There are many plot reviews out there but this summary has fewer ads for dentistry and explains the title in the end.

Hope y’all had a Happy Christmas for those who believe in that sort of thing, and have a Cool Yule & New Year for those with faith in other reasons to be cheerful!

pixel All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control pubic opinion can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals...