Woking Borough Council to keep free parking for church goers

LEGITIMATE AIM - the council will rule in favour of keeping free parking for church goers
LEGITIMATE AIM - the council will rule in favour of keeping free parking for church goers

WOKING Borough Council will announce its decision to keep the much debated parking concession for church goers at a meeting next month, after an independent equality survey ruled the policy carried a ‘legitimate aim’.

At present, worshippers of Coign Church, Christ Church, Trinity Methodist Church, and Woking United Reform Church may park free of charge in Victoria Way and Brewery Road car parks on Sunday mornings.

But the policy, if agreed, would extend to cover all faith communities, allowing some individuals to claim free town centre parking even if their primary day of worship does not fall on Sunday.

Member of the executive and Conservative councillor for Mount Hermon East Carl Thomson said: “Having obtained legal advice, it is clear that it is a legitimate aim for the council to support the churchgoing community in Woking.

“I was always disappointed that the threat of legal action had been made and think most people would see that as bullying and intolerant.

“The council gives concessions and grants to a range of organisations. The National Secular Society are crying discrimination where none exists.

“The amended policy makes clear that the council will continue to support worshipers as it does many other community groups.”

Council leaders were targeted by pressure group the National Secular Society last year when it emerged via the Freedom of Information Act that more than £55,000 was saved by worshippers claiming free parking over a two-and-a-half year period between January 2009 and July 2011.

The society demanded a reform of borough policies and threatened legal action against the council under the Equality Act 2010.

In late 2011 the council employed consultancy firm Skyers-Poorman Research and Consulting to undertake a £5,000 ‘equality impact assessment’ to help them ascertain whether or not the concession discriminated against those who did not belong to the religious community.

A 24-page report was compiled and after discussing a change of policy at the last meeting of the executive, head of the council John Kingsbury confirmed a verdict will be announced on July 12.

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About the Author: Andy Fitzsimon