York Council has suspended issuing fines to drivers who break traffic restrictions at Lendal Bridge & Coppergate, Minster FM can exclusively reveal. But the council says it is still recording those drivers who break the rules and urges motorists to continue to obey the restrictions.
The council has also revealed that since the Lendal Bridge trial ended in February, not all motorists who have broken the rules have been fined.
Minster FM News Editor Kevin Larkin questioned Dave Merrett, the councillor in charge of transport, about the issue on Friday:
Since then, Dave Merrett has asked council officials to clarify the situation. In a statement, Darren Richardson, Director of City & Environmental Services at City of York Council, said:
"During the trial 95 per cent of drivers have adhered to the restrictions in place on Lendal bridge and the number of vehicles breaching the restriction had reached a peaked and started to decline. We’ve always said the trial was not to generate revenue, but to reduce traffic going over the bridge and through the city centre, as part of a long-term vision to create an even more attractive and thriving city centre for everyone. As such, once the six month data collection had been completed, the council reviewed and reduced the levels of enforcement, at its discretion, during the restricted hours. Since this point, not every private vehicle breaching the restrictions has received a PCN. This is in line with similar schemes around the country.
"Following legal advice on the trial, restrictions will remain in place and recordings will be taken of any breaches of the restrictions along both Lendal Bridge and Coppergate. Fines will not be issued upon these recordings until further legal process. Drivers are urged to continue to adhere to the restrictions in place."
It raises the prospect that many fines could end up expiring, as a council only has 14 days to contact the DVLA to obtain a driver's details and then has to issue a fine within 28 days.
“The Council operates an ad hoc system whereby appeals to the TPT are not contested when sufficient resource to deal with them is not available. This is determined simply on a workload basis and when more TPT cases require attention than the available staff can deal with a batch of them will be returned as not contested.
As it was always likely to be the case that more appeals would be received than could be resourced consideration was given to formal mechanisms to determine which to contest and which to not contest. It was concluded that any such mechanism would be arbitrary to some extent and unless extremely complex, open to accusations of bias or unfairness. Therefore the system we operate whereby batches of appeals are not contested randomly based on workload commitments was considered to be the fairest, most understandable and least corruptible system possible”.
However, summing up his verdict on the enforcement procedure, Adjudicator Stephen Knapps was critical of the council's argument stating:
"...it is unacceptable that the Council commenced the bus street scheme in the knowledge that sufficient
resources to deal with challenges and appeals would not be available despite the statutory obligation to consider each of the representations fairly and based on the general principles of public law.
"The process in effect introduces a “lottery” where an important criteria for deciding whether a penalty charge should be enforced is the level of available staffing. This inevitably means that a recipient of a PCN who advances mitigating circumstances or indeed a statutory ground of challenge may well not have those representations considered properly at the first stage of the process. A Notice of Rejection would then be issued and the individual would have to decide whether to pay the penalty charge but without the knowledge that if an appeal was pursued to the Tribunal there would be a significant chance that the case would not be contested depending on the staffing levels available to the Council at the time. This in my judgement does not represent a fair way of dealing with challenges and cannot be properly considered as a process which is sufficiently compliant either with the principles of public law, the duty in the Regulations or the recommendations set out in Chapter 7 of the Guidance on Bus Lane Enforcement issued by the Department for Transport in 2008."
LEGAL ADVICE ROW
It comes after a weekend which has seen an increasing row over the council's independent legal advice, which told the authority it's restrictions are lawful.
Opposition Lib Dem leader Keith Aspden asked the council's Chief Executive Kersten England to publish the legal advice and it's cost but both of those were rejected on the basis that the council would be going ahead with an appeal of the Adjudicator's decision on Tuesday.
Keith Aspden said in a statement:
“Labour imposed an unpopular and apparently unlawful closure of Lendal Bridge on York taxpayers. Now they are using taxpayers’ money to fight to keep the closure in place and appeal the Government Adjudicator’s ruling.
“We need to see the legal advice, know how much it cost, and understand how much money Labour is prepared to throw at any legal battle. This is public money and the public have a right to know.”
Speaking about the decision not to disclose the legal guidance to opposition councillors, he added:
“As an elected councillor and leader of the joint largest opposition group it is deeply concerning that I am denied access to information and legal advice received by the council. I am also concerned that a decision seems to have been taken in secret to appeal the original ruling. Any ideas of openness or transparency seem to have been forgotten by Labour as their handling of the botched Lendal Bridge trial goes from bad to worse.”
But the council hit back saying in a statement:
The legal advice that has been provided by Queens Counsel to City of York Council will provide the basis for any legal action that the council may take in relation to Lendal Bridge. As with any potential litigation, no resident
or organisation would ever weaken their case by putting it into the public domain ahead of proceedings. City of York Council is no different.
Andy Docherty, Head of Legal Services said, "If a council member can demonstrate a material reason why they need to know what the legal advice is, I will discuss it with them. But it is not the case that there is a right to have a copy of the advice."