Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre empire is embroiled in a row with Westminster City Council, after it demanded almost £280,000 in parking charges while work is carried out at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
LW Theatres claims that the invoice of £279,480 – to suspend three parking bays and one coach drop-off bay – is “illogical and inequitable”.
It has worked out that the maximum revenue that could be raised by the council from the three parking bays, if they were used by motorists for the entire duration of the works, is £62,622.
The coach drop-off zone that the theatre wants to suspend earns the council no revenue, but it is still raising a charge with LW Theatres for it.
A letter to the local authority, written by LW Theatres executive chairman Mark Wordsworth on behalf of Lloyd Webber, accuses the council of trying to make “windfall financial gains”.
“It would be hugely less expensive for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane project managers to park the lorries delivering materials to the site in the car-parking bays and the coach drop-off bays without applying for any suspensions, and then to pay the relevant parking fines (if any in case of the coach drop-off bays),” he writes.
He adds: “We clearly would not take this approach. However, it appears WCC is intent on penalising those who comply with the regulations and to seek to make windfall financial gains at their expense.”
In the letter, Wordsworth also says that the council should be “celebrating” restoration projects that are conducted by private individuals – with no cost to the public – “rather than trying to penalise them by imposing parking suspension charges that are illogical and inequitable”.
LW Theatres will begin a £45 million refurbishment of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from January and needs to suspend the three parking bays and one coach drop-off space to allow for access during the restoration project.
Westminster City Council, which reduced its arts budget to zero in 2014/15, has issued an invoice for £139,740 for the three parking bays, and another of £139,740 to suspend the coach drop-off bay.
Responding to Wordsworth, the council said the charges for the bays were defined by law.
It goes on to say that they exist to “deter unnecessary suspensions, limit the number of bays being taken out of commission and/or, where a suspension must take place, reduce the length of time the bays are suspended so that works are completed on schedule”.
The council also states that, while it recognises the importance of the work being carried out, it has a “statutory responsibility to balance the demand for access to kerbside space for all users, so that other areas are not unnecessary impacted due to the suspension of any parking”.
Tim Mitchell, Westminster City Council cabinet member for environment and city management, called suspending parking bays in central London as an “inconvenience to our residents, visitors and other businesses”.
“That’s especially true if those bays are out of action for a year and a half, as they are in this case.
“It’s simply not the same as parking in a space for a single day – reserving spaces over a long period in this busy part of London carries a charge of up to £109 per day,” he told The Stage.
He added: “This money goes towards improving transport services in Westminster, including for children travelling to school, older people and those with mobility issues.”
Jack Tilbury is a theatre project director at Plann, and has worked on a number of high-profile redevelopments.
He said he had applied for long-term parking bay suspensions for these works.
“It is not unusual for the costs for this to be higher than the cost of actually paying for parking in the bays,” he added.
Tilbury highlighted the cost to the local authority in administration, advertising the suspensions and putting up signs, and suggested that the rates were high to “ensure that suspensions are not requested frivolously”.
“There is also a loss of income to the local authority that needs to be recovered,” he added.
However, Tilbury revealed he had managed to successfully negotiate a discount on behalf of theatres on a number of occasions.
“The rationale for the discount on a long-term suspension is that not every parking bay would ever be in use at all operational hours. So the loss of income is significantly less than the gross potential of the bay. The advertised rates for suspensions seem to be slightly higher than the gross potential,” he said.
Tilbury also emphasised the importance of council departments to communicate with each other on major projects.
“Most theatre development projects will come into contact with the local authority on a regular basis. Almost all of these conversations go though different departments who don’t necessarily speak to each other, so having high-level support for the wider aims of the project within the council can be crucial to smoothing the path and unblocking issues,” he said.