A local council will spend £5,000 of taxpayers’ money on an ‘equality assessment’ of free car parking for churchgoers – all because a secularist pressure group has complained.
The National Secular Society (NSS) threatened Woking Borough Council with legal action, claiming that allowing free Sunday parking for three churches in the town centre was a breach of equality and “almost certainly illegal”.
Councillor Carl Thomson, who represents Mount Hermon East on the borough council, spoke out against the challenge from the NSS.
He said: “The religious community bring so much to Woking and it’s nice for the council to do something for worshippers.
“We need to move away from this idea that something which benefits one group disadvantages everyone else.
“It’s a shame this complaint has been made and that the council now has to spend thousands of pounds on an impact assessment.”
Without the scheme attendees at Coign Church, Christ Church and Trinity Methodist Church would have faced parking charges of more than £55,000 over the past two and a half years.
Worshippers insert tickets into a “validating device” at the churches which encodes the tickets so that they raise the exit barrier without the need for payment.
Parking for churchgoers will remain free while the assessment is being carried out, and the results will be reported back to a future council meeting at an undisclosed date.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, said: “We are pleased that they have decided to refer the matter to an equality assessment.”