DRIVERS fined for breaking controversial traffic rules in York could find out within days whether they will get refunds, as the row over the restrictions continues.
A Government traffic expert’s damning judgement has said City of York Council had no power to issue penalty charge notices to motorists who breached traffic orders on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate, throwing the schemes into disarray.
The council expects “independent legal advice” on traffic adjudicator Stephen Knapp’s report tomorrow, which may decide whether drivers who have paid fines can be refunded. Traffic cameras on the bridge and Coppergate are still operating and fines being issued.
Council leader James Alexander has requested an internal review of both schemes, saying the way they have been carried out is not good enough. Coun Dave Merrett, cabinet member for transport, faces calls to resign following the Mr Knapp’s judgement, which analysed the restrictions while upholding one motorist’s appeal against a Coppergate PCN.
Coun Alexander said: “The principle of reducing private traffic in our city-centre is right, given the increasing problem we have with congestion, but we accept the implementation of this policy has not been to a standard my colleagues and I would expect.”
More than 53,000 fines were sent out during the six-month trial – which ended in February, with restrictions remaining until a decision on the scheme’s future on May 6 - with almost 10,000 issued on Coppergate over five months. The estimated income to the council from both schemes is £1.7 million, with about £700,000 ring-fenced for road and transport schemes after costs are deducted.
Visit York’s head Kate McMullen said the tourism agency had stressed its “deep concern” about visitors being “inadvertently” fined for using Lendal Bridge since the trial started, saying: “It is regrettable a first-warning system could not have been used.”
Susie Cawood, head of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “This closure has not worked and is having a negative impact on business and economic growth – the Chamber strongly urges the council to halt this trial immediately and not make it permanent.”
A spokesman for bus operator First said “reliability” had improved during the trial and this was one of the factors in increased passenger numbers. He said the firm would continue working with the council to look at ways of improving reliability further.
Conservative leader Coun Chris Steward said Coun Alexander’s review call was an attempt to “pass the buck” and Labour must take the blame for a “failed policy”. In an email to Coun Alexander and the council’s chief executive Kersten England, Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden said the authority had “lost control of events” and continuing the bridge closure is “untenable”.
Mr Knapp’s judgement said it was “unacceptable” that the council began the schemes knowing “sufficient resources to deal with challenges and appeals would not be available”. He said this had turned the appeals process into “a lottery”.