High Court case against Westminster City Council well under way

MAG’s man in Westminster has just spent two days at the High Court to witness the No To Bike Parking Tax (NTBPT) claim against Westminster City Council’s (WCC) bike parking tax scheme.

In essence the claim is that the Traffic Orders for the permanent scheme issued in Jan 2010, were not made according to all relevant regulations and that therefore the scheme is illegal and must be scraped.

This is the latest news from our man on the inside…

There is no doubt that the authorities are taking this case extremely seriously as it was heard not by one judge, but two, including one of high seniority, Lord Justice, Sir John Pitchford. (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/hss/23839.html)

During the first day he actually told the claimant’s barrister with a smile that he might be “pushing at an open door”. During the morning of day two, the NTBPT barrister made a series of well made points that caused the Westminster team to quite literally hold their heads in gloom. However, during the afternoon, the WCC defence barrister made a series of loose points and claims the judges said were “unsubstantiated” – and at one stage the proceedings took on an almost farcical tone as the Judges tried to get a clear idea of what the Western extension of the Congestion Charging zone was and if it had anything to do with the case. But input from the defence was mostly accepted by the judges as a legitimate contribution to considering the pros and cons of the case. It was almost as if the defence were being allowed to waffle about more or less anything without being held to account on whether the council had really done what was legally required to justify making the scheme permanent.

Obviously that did not bode well for a ruling against the new orders for the scheme. In summarising where we ended up, our man in the know says that it is impossible to say what the ruling will be, as there was so much written evidence that was only referred to briefly in the court. But he advised caution about assuming that just because the council did not really justify their new tax to the court, that the court would tell them to scrap it.

Our man concluded that although some good points were scored for the claimants, the NTBPT barrister may have put too much emphasis on a string of legal points drawn from previous cases than clearly spelling out the fundamental key points of the case against Westminster – even though the judges asked him to do just that on two or three occasions throughout the hearing. And, now that WCC say the main ‘reason’ to impose a new bike parking charge for on-street bays is a “need to manage demand for kerbside space” the key arguments against the scheme are these:

  1. WCC already had all the powers it needed to ‘manage’ and control parking of all vehicles, including motorcycles but without the new charging scheme.

  2. The council has not made any case at all to justify an extension of their existing parking control powers, or produced a shred of evidence to support their waffled claim that charging bikes to park in existing on-street bays will make anything better.

  3. The key reason that WCC gave for charging during the ‘trial’ scheme was to pay for better bike parking facilities, but that was dropped when it came to making the Traffic Orders to make the scheme permanent because as a matter of fact, all on-street motorcycle parking facilities in the form of bays and security devices that are subject to charging under the NEW orders made in January 2010, were all in place and paid for BEFORE the new orders were made.

  4. No case has been made to show or evidence produced, to prove that the imposition of a new charge for parking in on-street M/C parking bays has any impact whatsoever on WCC’s ability to manage demand for it.

  5. The only truly plausible motive and reason for the new charges that Westminster have admitted to, is a desire to use surplus revenue from the new scheme to address a fall in revenue from car parking.

The judges have said it may take them up to two weeks to reach a decision and issue a ruling…