Council fighting Ulez expansion hails success of free town centre car parking

A London council leading the fight against the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone has introduced free parking in a bid to lure shoppers back to its town centres.

Tory-run Harrow is foregoing £1m of parking revenue a year to allow drivers to park for free for an hour at its on-street parking meters and in its car parks.

Council leader Paul Osborn said the move had proved “incredibly popular”. It was first introduced for on-street parking last summer and expanded to include council car parks at the start of February.

Mr Osborn said about 750,000 free parking sessions had been used by motorists to date. “It really does help our local businesses,” he said. “It helps increase employment, helps increase business rates and avoids us having to deal with empty shops.

“Some people were driving to neighbouring areas because parking was cheaper or free. This could encourage them to stay in Harrow.

“At this time, when the cost of everything else is going up, it’s nice to be able to help people. It’s all about supporting the high street.”

The council has decided “not to pursue” draft proposals drawn up by officers that would have charged drivers of older, more polluting vehicles more to park.

However it is retaining a residents’ parking scheme that varies in cost according to vehicle emissions, from £21.60 a year for an electric car to £86.60 for the most polluting petrol cars and £104 for high-emission diesels.

Harrow has joined forces with Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley and Surrey county councils in seeking to have the Ulez expansion declared illegal by the High Court.

A date for an initial hearing – to determine if the application for judicial review can proceed - is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. This may be done by an exchange of documents rather than in open court.

The decision not to consult on the size and nature of the scrappage scheme available to drivers of non-compliant cars is a key issue.

Mayor Sadiq Khan is making £110m available to low-income Londoners, small businesses and charities - but has called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to proivide a similar amount to enable the scheme to be extended to drivers living in the Home Counties.