I was very surprised to read today that some councils offer free car parking to Christian church-goers on Sundays in city centres. In fact the council most in the news (Woking), offers free parking to all faith groups. Woking west of London is mentioned in our book since the council has built its own electricity micro-grid and offers its residents and businesses access to cheaper power*. The council did this to cut its carbon emissions, which it has done significantly. Its therefore surprising that they encourage people to drive. Its also surprising that anywhere in the UK offers free city centre parking! I have been to France recently and even in a major city we visited the parking was free on a Saturday in a city centre car park. This is inconceivable in the UK. Certainly in Edinburgh members of the city centre church I attend have not been offered free parking. Exactly the opposite, currently you can park on a Sunday for free if you can find a residents permit parking space, everywhere else you pay. These are limited in number and with more and more shopping and cars in the city centre it has been getting harder and harder to park. However, the council is currently consulting on charging for even residents permit parking spaces on Sundays. In addition (and for us that is part of the problem) they are free for everyone, not just church-goers. Its such a hassle I refuse to go in the car and cycle (as I wrote in the previous but one post, that’s not the only reason).
The council gave the reasons for this policy as follows;
“The policy applies to all faiths, not just church-goers. The council considers that places of worship, and the faith communities that they serve, play an important role, both in society in general and Woking in particular.
They encourage people to participate in society, thereby promoting social inclusion. In addition, considerable voluntary work is organised by faith communities, often for the benefit of the more disadvantaged members of our society … In furtherance of this aim, the council allows members of a faith community to park free of charge.”
This is encouraging and I would hope true, but I cannot agree with it. In days when we need to cut carbon emissions and change our lifestyles Christians should be at the forefront of environmental change. There are good reasons not to use the car to go to church and good reasons to get people out of their cars in general. Our church undoubtedly gums up the streets around it with cars making it more difficult for residents and another church does the same in my street. Congestion and pollution is a big problem in any city where the car is king. Parking charges are not only a revenue stream for local government but a way of getting people pay for some of the external effects of internal combustion.
Of course this car parking exemption is being challenged by the “National secular society”. Normally I don’t have much time I don’t have much sympathy with this bunch, who should get a life. But this time I do, although not the idea of making parking free for everyone which is one idea they are suggesting as an alternative.
* The power sources are fuel cells and photovoltaics.