Westminster is acting against minicab company Addison Lee after it provided about 16,000 free cigarette bins for smokers outside pubs and restaurants.
In a test case, the Tory-run authority claims that it has broken planning laws by advertising itself on the Adbins, placed at seven sites in the Marylebone conservation area.
But the minicab firm – Europe’s largest with 2,400 vehicles – says it is being "bullied" by an over-bureaucratic council. It calls Westminster’s action perverse, coming as it does after a council crackdown on smokers that involved handing out £80 on-the-spot fines to people seen discarding cigarette butts.
Addison Lee chairman John Griffin told the Standard he hoped to call Mayor Boris Johnson as a witness when the case goes before City of Westminster magistrates on September 29. The hearing was postponed this week.
His company began giving pubs and restaurants the metal bins, at a cost to Addison Lee of about £50 each to buy and maintain, after England’s smoking ban was introduced in 2007. They are fixed to walls in external smoking areas and enable smokers to dispose of cigarettes without littering.
A further 5,000 bins are planned. Some featured an advert for the taxi company, but the latest ones do not because, it says, the post-pub trade is not its target market.
Mr Griffin said: "There is a law now which requires businesses to make receptacles available so people don’t throw cigarette butts on the floor. As part of our attempt to help people to comply, we supply these bins at zero cost to them. Westminster are trying to say we need planning permission.
"But whenever we put the bin up, we get the permission of the restaurant. If the restaurant needs planning permission, that’s a matter for them."
Mr Griffin added: "He [Boris] has said the Adbins are a commendable effort to keep London tidy. In the meantime, Westminster have decided they want to bully us. Nobody else is bothered about it."
Murad Qureshi, a Labour London Assembly member, said: "This is daft action by the City of Westminster, considering most of the cigarette butts would have ended up on the streets."
Westminster declined to comment