West End voices fears at Westminster parking charge hike

Natalie Woolman
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West End performers and audiences will have to pay for parking until midnight from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday afternoons, sparking fears the charges will discourage family audiences and put performers and technical crews’ safety at risk.

Westminster City Council’s cabinet decided on Monday to impose new parking charges on the area south of Oxford Street including Theatreland.

A rate of £4.40 per hour will be charged all day on Fridays and Saturdays until midnight and the same charge will apply between 1pm and 6pm on Sundays. A reduced hourly rate of £2.20 will apply from 6.30pm until midnight from Monday to Thursday. It marks the first time Westminster City Council has charged for parking beyond 6.30pm on weekday evenings or charged at all on Sundays.

Nica Burns, vice president of the Society of London Theatre and chief executive of Nimax Theatres, said: “Westminster is a very good council and is very proactive supporting theatre. However, I do think it is appalling that the weekend should have been affected. Here we are trying to get families to spend more time with each other and families going to the big musicals is a very big deal at the weekends.

“I think it is morally indefensible – the weekend is a different time of the week and Westminster council shouldn’t be treating it like an ordinary working day.”

Julian Bird, SOLT chief executive, added: “We had argued against the extension of charging into other times of the week because we remain particularly concerned about families and the weekend family market in the theatre.

“We believe that a bigger proportion of the weekend audience come by car than the weekday audience and that reflects the fact that there are more families.”

He added that SOLT did not know the full details of the scheme yet, and were continuing to cooperate with the council on a reduced parking ticket scheme for audience members using the local authority’s car parks.

Recent research by SOLT revealed around 16% of London theatregoers use cars to visit the theatre, while around 90% of London theatre ticket revenue is generated within the borough of Westminster. This would mean the changes put at risk up to around 14.5% of total income or approximately £72 million based on London theatres grossing £500 million annually – a figure achieved in both 2009 and 2010.

Meanwhile, entertainment unions are concerned for the safety of workers in the West End as well as the additional cost. Martin Brown, Equity’s assistant general secretary for communications and membership support, said: “Theatre workers including performers leave the theatre much later than the audience. Often they are travelling home on relatively empty public transport. Being able to park in central London before they start work enables them to travel home safely after they finish work.

“We fear that forcing theatre workers, who are often very poorly paid, to pay parking charges will put more young performers on public transport late at night and put them at risk.”

The changes will be implemented by December on an experimental basis for up to 18 months. The charging policies followed research gathered over the course of a year including two public consultations.

Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for parking, Lee Rowley, said: “While I recognise that parking controls are not popular, research shows that in some parts of the West End it is now more difficult to park on a Sunday and on weekday evenings than it is during the working week.

“These new policies will mean our residents will be able to park near their homes, businesses can continue to deliver goods, and visitors can have a realistic expectation that they will be able to park when coming into the city.”

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