A church leader has hit out at plans to introduce 24/7 pay and display parking on Wokingham Road, dubbing the scheme ‘pay to pray’.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) is proposing shared bays on the east Reading road which would mean non-permit holders could only park with a pay & display ticket.

Permit holders would be able to park 24/7 with no restrictions.

Officers will conduct a consultation over spring and bring the results to the Traffic Management sub-committee in June 2019.

Peter Cowling, a leader at the Earley Christian Fellowship, on 153 Wokingham Road, said: “I feel there is a misunderstanding of the situation.

“The report talks about meeting the needs of residents, providing flexible parking for visitors and overcoming objections made primarily by regular visitors.

“There is ample parking on site for the residents and their visitors. This is not an issue.

“The congregation and regular attendees at events at ECF are neither residents nor visitors but are an integral part of the church, a place of worship and social hub.

“A church is its congregation and the proposed metering could be considered indirect discrimination under the equality act 2010 on the basis of ‘pay to pray’.

“You need to keep sight of what you are seeking to achieve with these objections.”

‘Pay to pray’ is a term used by Woking Borough Council, which provides free parking for three local churches in council run car parks on Sunday mornings.

This policy has itself been dubbed as direct discrimination by the National Secular Society.

Mr Cowling called for the council to include exemptions to the restrictions overnight from 9pm to 8am and at the weekend.

Councillor Brenda McGonigle suggested a compromise where there are no restrictions on Sundays.

As part of a consultation on introducing on-street residents permit parking scheme in East Reading, the council initially proposed to introduce a ‘shared use’ bay that allowed permit holders to park at any time and non-permit holders to park for up to two hours from 8am-8pm.

Following feedback from the statutory consultation, the Traffic Management sub-committee axed the proposal in January 2019 and suggested the new metered scheme at the latest meeting on March 7.

Mr Cowling thanked the committee for removing the proposed 2-hour restriction, but said the new proposal was ‘disappointingly no better, if not worse’.

Councillor Mohammed Ayub, chair of the Traffic Management sub-committee, said: “We will take your concerns on board and I am sure we will look into it.”