London's black cab drivers want to stop its cross town cycle routes

Look at that lovely lack of cabs. Image: Greater London Authority.

Remember these?

These are the two new cross town cycle highways planned for London. One runs east-west along the Embankment; the other runs north-south along Farringdon Road (the maps expand if you click on them). They are, says the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), “Europe’s longest substantially segregated cycleways”.

Well, the good news is that, they've got the go-ahead from City Hall. There have been a few minor changes to the plans (a slight narrowing in some locations, that sort of thing), but nothing substantive, and construction will begin in March.

The bad news is that, within mere minutes of that announcement, this happened:

The London Taxi Drivers' Association aren't the only organisation whining about this particular decision. Consider this statement from Howard Dawber, spokesperson for the Canary Wharf Group property firm:

“Canary Wharf is calling for a trial period – like during the Olympics – so we can see how the scheme works in practice and make any necessary changes.”

How one can trial building a massive great cycle highway is not exactly clear. You either build it or you don't. If you only build part of it, you’re not really trialling the thing at all. But anyway.

Both these statements are – let's not kid ourselves about this – acts of naked self-interest. Cab drivers don't want scarce space on key routes like these given over to cyclists, which would slow traffic and make expensive black cabs less attractive as a way of getting around the place. Similarly, if you own Canary Wharf, you’re probably gonna oppose any development that might slow traffic down on the main road route to Heathrow.

A judicial review can't block the new cycle lanes forever: the courts are empowered to review the process by which decisions are made, but not the decisions themselves. The worst case scenario here is that Transport for London could be forced to go back to square one, and re-do their consultation process.

That’s unlikely to change public opinion. As the LCC notes:

There has been overwhelming support for the proposals... More than a hundred major businesses on or near the routes, including Unilever, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deloitte and Orange, also publicly backed the scheme, as did all parties on the London Assembly. Opinion polling showed that Londoners as a whole backed the scheme by 64 per cent to 28 per cent.

What a judicial review can do, though, is make the process of getting the cycle lanes built so horrible that London's political leaders decide it isn't worth the hassle. From here on, it's a battle of willpower.

Still, the whole thing has given Uber’s London office a great chance to troll their arch-rivals in the black cab lobby:

 
 
 
 

Two east London boroughs are planning to tax nightlife to fund the clean up. Will it work?

A Shoreditch rave, 2013. Image: Getty.

No-one likes cleaning up after a party, but someone’s got to do it. On a city-wide scale, that job falls to the local authority. But that still leaves the question: who pays?

In east London, the number of bars and clubs has increased dramatically in recent years. The thriving club scene has come with benefits – but also a price tag for the morning clean-up and cost of policing. The boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets are now looking to nightlife venues to cover these costs.

Back in 2012, councils were given powers to introduce ‘late night levies’: essentially a tax on all the licensed venues that open between midnight and 6am. The amount venues are expected to pay is based on the premises’ rateable value. Seventy per cent of any money raised goes to the police and the council keeps the rest.

Few councils took up the offer. Four years after the legislation was introduced, only eight local authorities had introduced a levy, including Southampton, Nottingham, and Cheltenham. Three of the levies were in the capital, including Camden and Islington. The most lucrative was in the City of London, where £420,000 was raised in the 2015-16 financial year.

Even in places where levies have been introduced, they haven’t always had the desired effect. Nottingham adopted a late night levy in November 2014. Last year, it emerged that the tax had raised £150,000 less than expected in its first year. Only a few months before, Cheltenham scrapped its levy after it similarly failed to meet expectations.


Last year, the House of Lords committee published its review of the 2003 Licensing Act. The committee found that “hardly any respondents believed that late night levies were currently working as they should be” – and councils reported that the obligation to pass revenues from the levy to the police had made the tax unappealing. Concluding its findings on the late night levy, the committee said: “We believe on balance that it has failed to achieve its objectives, and should be abolished.”

As might be expected of a nightlife tax, late night levies are also vociferously opposed by the hospitality industry. Commenting on the proposed levy in Tower Hamlets, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive at the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “A levy would represent a damaging new tax – it is the wrong approach. The focus should be on partnership working, with the police and local business, to address any issues in the night time economy.”

Nevertheless, boroughs in east London are pressing ahead with their plans. Tower Hamlets was recently forced to restart a consultation on its late night levy after a first attempt was the subject of a successful legal challenge by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the ALMR, said:

“We will continue to oppose these measures wherever they are considered in any part of the UK and will urge local authorities’ to work with businesses, not against them, to find solutions to any issues they may have.”

Meanwhile, Hackney council intends to introduce a levy after a consultation which revealed 52 per cents of respondents were in favour of the plans. Announcing the consultation in February, licensing chair Emma Plouviez said:

“With ever-shrinking budgets, we need to find a way to ensure the our nightlife can continue to operate safely, so we’re considering looking to these businesses for a contribution towards making sure their customers can enjoy a safe night out and their neighbours and surrounding community doesn’t suffer.”

With budgets stretched, it’s inevitable that councils will seek to take advantage of any source of income they can. Nevertheless, earlier examples of the late night levy suggest this nightlife tax is unlikely to prove as lucrative as is hoped. Even if it does, should we expect nightlife venues to plug the gap left by public sector cuts?