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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

NSS challenge to free parking for churchgoers forces Council to act

Woking Borough Council has agreed to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment after a warning from the NSS that it is breaking the law by allowing churchgoers to park free while charging everyone else.

Worshippers at three churches do not pay to use two public car parks on a Sunday morning, while shoppers do. This has cost taxpayers more than £50,000 over the past 18 months, as Newsline revealed on 2 September.

Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said: “People who are going to Woking to shop have to pay, people who are going to worship don’t – that seems to me almost a definition of discrimination”.

The Council has now received advice that the free parking is indirectly discriminatory but that ”the policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. However, the advice continues that ”a policy of ongoing subsidy without any limitation in time could be held to be disproportionate”. The Council discussed the issue at its meeting on 13 October and decided to carry out the Assessment – you can read the notes on the meeting here and here. The Assessment is said to be costing the Council £5,000 – of taxpayers’ money.

Keith Porteous Wood commented: “We are pleased that the Council is moving in the direction of removing the discrimination. However, a quick telephone call to its solicitors, whether internal or external, should have been sufficient to resolve this matter without spending anything like £5,000”.

Published Fri, 21 Oct 2011