A LEGAL wrangle over controversial traffic schemes in York could take up to three months to resolve and mean many drivers who breach the rules avoiding fines.
Government traffic adjudicator Stephen Knapp last week said City of York Council should not have issued penalty charge notices (PCNs) to tens of thousands of drivers through traffic restrictions on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate, but the authority is now set to challenge his judgement.
In an email to Liberal Democrat group leader Coun Keith Aspden, the council’s director of city and environmental services Darren Richardson said legal advice meant the authority was “sufficiently confident” it could follow the next stage of the appeals process, and will be “lodging our intent” with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal this week. He said: “We are aware the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has a heavy caseload and therefore, realistically, would not expect to get a formal answer for up to three months.
“We will, however, be highlighting the sensitivity of this case in the national context and hope it could be prioritised accordingly.”
Mr Richardson’s email also confirmed traffic fines must be issued within 28 days of an offence but it will not be possible to resolve the Lendal Bridge and Coppergate issue within four weeks of Mr Knapp’s decision. The council is not currently issuing PCNs, although it is recording breaches on both routes, but the timescales mean many fines will expire.
Coun Aspden - who branded the Lendal Bridge scheme "a ridiculous state of affairs" - said a lengthy legal battle would cost taxpayers “a huge amount of money” and questioned why the council is monitoring traffic breaches if penalties cannot be issued within the time required. He said: “If the council cannot enforce the restrictions, they must lift them and reopen Lendal Bridge immediately.”
He also said it was still unclear how much the legal advice the council received from a QC had cost or "how much the council is prepared to throw at any legal challenge".
Mr Richardson has said the bridge trial’s aim was to reduce traffic using Lendal Bridge and through the city-centre "as part of a long-term vision to create an even more attractive and thriving city-centre for everybody", rather than to generate income for the counci. Mr Knapp's judgement also said he did not believe the trial had ever been introduced as a means of generating revenue for the authority.
The council reviewed and reduced the levels of enforcement once data from the six-month bridge trial, which ended on February 27, had been collected, saying this was being done at its discretion and meant "not every private vehicle breaching the restrictions has received a PCN". Mr Richardson said this was in line with similar schemes around the country, but drivers should continue to adhere to the restrictions on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate.