When you prepare for a phone-in programme the nightmare scenario in the back of your mind is that no one will phone in. When my producer Matt suggested to me yesterday that we should cover the story about Westminster City Council taking Addison Lee to court to ban them from putting their company name on those cigarette bins you find on walls outside pubs and club, I thought he was having a laugh.
In essence, Westminster are trying to allege that they contravene planning regulations. Astonishing, eh? You'd have thought they would welcome them as something which helps keep Westminster's streets clean and tidy. But on the contrary. I suspect this is some idiot jobsworth who delights in quoting some obscure piece of planning law. I'd hope that it is something the Cabinet Member for Planning might now put a stop to. They maintain it only applies to 7 bins in a conservation area in Marylebone, but just watch them try to ban all 16,000 of the bins. Addison Lee pay £50 for each one and then it is up to the venue owner to empty them and maintain them.
Anyway, with some trepidation, I introduced the topic at 9pm, spoke to Murad Quereshi from the London Assembly, who thought it was just as daft as I did but couldn't get anyone from Westminster to put their heads above the parapet. And the phone lines went mad. The two calls I enjoyed most were from people who supported Westminster's line. Hang on a minute, I thought, there must be some vested interest at play here. Sure enough, they both turned out to be Black Cab drivers - the main competition for Addison Lee. Both of them were a little embarrassed when I asked what they did for a living.
One of the cab drivers did, however, come up with a good idea. He suggested that each bin should have the photo of a missing person on it, alongside the Addison Lee logo. A very good suggestion, which I hope they might take up.
It made for a great discussion. Who'd have thought cigarette bins could provoke such passion! I hope someone at Westminster will get a grip on this, but more importantly, it taught me always to trust my producer, Matt!
This is the same Westminster Council that does very little about the pest called the pedicab in the West End, the same Westminster Council that closes roads off then complains people can't find taxi-cabs. The very same Westminster council that has created traffic jams at night around Piccadilly Circus/Trafalgar Square and Oxford Circus.
Westminster isn't working and that's just the council...
What's going on is that the planning department trying to get the pubs involved to apply for advertising consent (see Planning Resource); the Addison Lee advertising doesn't seem to come under any of classes of deemed consent and unfortunately there's no general de minimis provision even if the advertisement is almost unnoticeable.
John Kennedy: WCC doesn't have power to license or restrict pedicabs. It would need a private Act of Parliament to do so, and that would almost certainly be opposed.
Whatever happened to Fag Ash Lil?
How about a photo of someone who died of lung cancer?
All these things are not jobsworthism.
They are the political fallout of the government's disasterous Buisness Investment District program.
Having sold the streets the Heart of London and the West End Company BIDs Westminster Council is forced to give these undemocratic structures political control of the streets.
Which means they want to control every millimeter of advertising space. Unfortunately WCC doesn't have the actual political powers to fulfill it's side of the faustian Cash-for-Power bargain so it is left streching the meanings of planning and licencing laws to breaking point.
It literally cant afford to fall out with the bids either as it's £17 million in the red at the moment having wisely invested it's usually large portfolio of assets as historically London's richest borough in Iceland.
It also means it's finding it hard to solve these problems by it's traditional route of private legislation and the Local Government Act system.
The result is a Council at war with the people who use it's services from taxi drivers, to motorcyclists to flyering comedians. The streets are no longer streets they are money-making extensions of shopping isles that must be assiduously monitored to make sure they reach their maximum ecconomic potential at all times.
There is some more explanation of the BID levy system here:
Anyone want to sign the petition?
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