UPDATED: Council leader James Alexander faces calls to resign over Lendal Bridge
Updated 5:52pm Monday 14th July 2014 in News
THE leader of York Council is facing calls to resign after it was agreed almost 60,000 motorists fined for driving over Lendal Bridge can be refunded.
Controversial traffic restrictions were introduced on Lendal Bridge last August which saw some 56,000 drivers issued penalty notices amounting to £1.3 million. Additional costs for setting up the project were in the region of £500,000. A City of York spokeswoman has said they cannot yet anticipate the cost of repaying the fines.
The trial was abandoned in April after an independent review found the council may have acted unlawfully.
On Friday, City of York Council confirmed it was working on a process to allow motorists to claim back their fine. An application will have to be made for refunds to be given as "a statement of goodwill" and will not be volunteered as that would legally say the scheme was wrong.
Leader of the council, Cllr James Alexander said City of York Council had been contesting the traffic adjudicator's challenge to both the Lendal Bridge and Coppergate schemes but will will now only continue to contest the Coppergate order.
The Liberal Democrats have said the decision is reason for Cllr Alexander, of the Labour party, to resign.
Cllr Keith Aspden, leader of York's Liberal Democrats, said: "The closure of Lendal Bridge was botched from start to finish and has done deep reputational damage to York.
"As well as repaying the fines, Labour should apologise to the residents, visitors and businesses caught out by the unlawful closure. They need to explain how the repayment process will work and what effect this decision will have on council budgets. They also need to accept our calls for a full scrutiny review of the trial so that all lessons are learnt.
"What is clear though is that ultimate responsibility for the shambles sits with the Council Leader James Alexander and I, along with many taxpayers, will now expect him to recognise this and resign."
Meanwhile, Cllr Paul Doughty, a conservative councillor for Strensall ward, said: "Now finally, not before time, they are forced to repay the fines yet still manage to dig the knife in as the ultimate penalty is paid by the York taxpayer who has to pick up the bill. Not only for the hundreds of thousands to repay fines but also the massive cost it will take to administer, the affect on services this may have as well as the city's reputation which they leave in tatters.
"Cllr Alexander even has the gall to say, 'all parties told me they want to move on'. Indeed but he cannot be so naive to believe others will share his administrations blame. In any other industry, heads would roll."
He suggested senior figures at the council should resign.
Cllr Alexander declined to comment at the weekend, beyond saying: "When Liberal Democrats back the cause of Conservatives, that speaks volumes."
Conservative leader Cllr Chris Steward said "heads should roll" over the matter and said officers should be answerable. He said the matter was of great reputational and financial cost to York.
A Labour spokesman said Conservatives had previously called for a bridge closure and that it had also been in previous Liberal Democrat transport plans.
Yesterday, Frank Wood, chair of York Retail Forum, said about 80 per cent of people fined were visitors and unlikely to find out about the refund.
The other 20 per cent would be “left with a bad taste in their mouth” over the issue.
“The damage has been done to the city and I hope we can recover from that.”
Nigel Rhodes, whose appeal against a fine for driving along Coppergate sparked the Traffic Penalty Tribunal finding, was disappointed the council was continuing with the Coppergate appeal, but added: “I’m glad people will get their money back for Lendal Bridge but... how will they find out they need to appeal? It’s all wrong.”
Councillor Alexander had said on Friday that the council decided to refund people who applied to the council “as a statement of goodwill” due to the level of public concern during the trial, adding: “We are drawing a line under the matter.”
Councillor David Levene, Cabinet Member for Transport, stressed the Lendal trial aimed to tackle congestion, improve air quality and support improvements for bus users, cyclists and pedestrians. “The trial has provided us with vital data regarding these issues and we can now move forward.”
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