Firms sound funeral bell for c-charge

Protesters call for suspension of charge until January

Small business owners have led a funeral procession through west London in protest at the city’s congestion charge.

Led by the Forum of Private Business (FPB), representatives from London firms followed a hearse from Gloucester Road to Kensington Gate to show their opposition to a fee they say is leading to the ‘death’ of their trade.

In July, the charge was increased from £5 to £8 per day, and earlier this month mayor Ken Livingstone announced he will proceed with plans in February 2007 to stretch the charging zone westward including the Gloucester Road area.

During today’s protest, mourners in black followed the hearse, bolstered by a New Orleans jazz band and a banner marking the death of independent business.

Research from the FPB shows that 70% of small firms in London say the daily price increase to drive through the Capital has significantly hurt their business, with a third saying they are considering relocating.

FPB chief Nick Goulding said that visitors and shoppers need to be encouraged to come into London, particularly in the current business climate and as the holiday shopping season approaches.

He called on the mayor to suspend the congestion charge until January.

Businesses in Gloucester Road complain they were never a part of the decision-making process to extend the zone.

“The consultation was a waste of time. There was very little listening to what people had to say,” said Ian Willard, manager of Partridges, a small grocery store on Gloucester Road.

“I fear it’s deterring people in south London from coming in, particularly areas like Battersea or Wandsworth.”

He said the extension is particularly ill-timed given the current uncertainty surrounding the Capital’s businesses.

Across the street, Chabane Hakim, manager of Perkins dry cleaners, insisted there are greater priorities for the mayor to be concerned with.

“All this congestion charge business, and look at the state of the roads,” Hakim said. “This is a nice part of town, and the roads are all dirty. And there’s no parking.

“The mayor doesn’t care about small businesses. [The congestion charge] has upset everybody. It’s all about money and greed.”

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