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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 February 2007, 17:01 GMT
Leafy Kensington shows its anger
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

Child with anti-congestion charge placard
The protesters say expectant mothers will be among those hit

Dozens of cars have gathered for a go-slow in west London in protest at the extension of the congestion charging zone.

Ken Livingstone is not a man given to trembling in the face of controversy.

But London's mayor might have found himself slightly disconcerted by the sight of anti-congestion charge protesters gathering in Kensington.

As many as 50 balloon-festooned cars and one red Routemaster bus set out on a leisurely lap of the area to show their displeasure at the arrival of the 8 charge on Monday.

It would be too easy to dismiss the serried ranks of well-dressed west London folk and surmise that they are only gaining media attention because they know how to say their vowels properly.

Indeed some of those present suspect that Mr Livingstone is singling them out because he knows the "posh" borough of Kensington and Chelsea is an easy target.
There are a lot of people on low incomes in north Kensington. They will all be hit by this
Michelle Weininger

Addison Road, where the protesters meet, is populated with opulent Victorian villas where even the gravel in the drives is immaculately coiffured. The houses go for 4m, although "for sale" signs are rare.

Jane Morris is one of those who is happy to accuse the mayor of "inverse snobbery".

"I run an interior design business in Knightsbridge. The street is all small traders, no supermarkets. That is what gives London its character.

"It is not stopping the congestion, it is moving it."

'Politics of envy'

Michelle Weininger is also desperate to deny that the campaign is about rich people making life easier for themselves.

"It is the politics of envy. It is totally wrong. This borough is very, very mixed, there are a lot of people on low incomes in north Kensington. They will all be hit by this.

"My husband is connected to a handful of restaurants in the West End financially. They are going to be hit badly."

Anti-charge slogans on a car
The protesters are ruthlessly organised

Despite the rancour towards Mr Livingstone in the crowd, he is still universally addressed as Ken. But the protesters' faces are a mask of disgust when they rail against Ken and his globetrotting missions to obtain cheap oil from leftist fellow travellers in Venezuela.

Mrs Weininger says: "If that dictator is shoving us onto public transport why is he not using it himself?"

But Mr Livingstone's spokesman later responded to this comment saying that the mayor does use public transport all the time.

The crowd is certainly not all well-to-do ladies in Hermes scarves. Closer examination shows a number of protesters with paint on their hands. And it is emulsion, not gouache.

Parody slogans

One of them is Dane Clark, who works for a property and maintenance company in Kensington and Chelsea.

"The rates are high anyway. Now you've got to add another charge. The parking is already 3 an hour. Smaller firms may go under."

It is a blunder, which acts as the Berlin Wall and cuts communities in two
Protester Gordon Taylor

These protesters, marshalled by policemen on mountain bikes, have placards and stickers that parody the congestion charge C-symbol with the slogans "Confused", "ill-Conceived" and "Costly".

A typical run of cars parked in the surrounding area might go Merc, Merc, Bentley, BMW, but the selection of cars on the go-slow is more modest, containing only the odd Porsche and Lexus.

Gordon Taylor, chairman of the West London Residents' Association, is in possession of the facts on congestion charging and they have made him a very cross man.

Police officers dismount from their bicycles to push a protester's car
The go-slow was policed by slow-moving officers

"Less than 5% of the road length in the west London zone has congestion. It isn't needed.

"It is a blunder, which acts as the Berlin Wall and cuts communities in two."

DJ and prospective mayoral candidate Mike Read is at the protest to show his support.

"It is crazy to extend it because haulage people and everybody else will find alternative routes and jam up other areas. It will clog the whole place up."

As for the go-slow protest, the Transport for London spokesman says: "'No one's interests are served by organising a drive slow on a Saturday, causing congestion and delays, when people are trying to go about their business and go shopping."

He argues the central London charge has worked - traffic levels have been cut by 20%, or 70,000 fewer vehicles a day.

But the people of Kensington will take some convincing.

New congestion charge zone




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Londoners protest congestion zone extension



SEE ALSO
Why the zone decided to go west
16 Feb 07 |  London
Borough wants congestion charge
07 Feb 07 |  London

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