THIRTEEN thousands drivers fined for driving down Coppergate during the controversial bus lane scheme should get their money back, new council bosses have decided.

The new council leader Chris Steward and his deputy Keith Aspden want to hand more than £350,000 back to the thousands of motorists caught driving down the street outside permitted hours in late 2013 and early 2014.

Refunding the money will help repair York's reputation after the Lendal Bridge and Coppergate debacles, the new ruling duo said.

Cllr Steward, Conservative leader of the council, said: "Repaying the fines is not just about drawing a line under this whole unfortunate chapter, but it’s also a start in repairing York’s reputation as a visitor-friendly city, a message which has taken a such a battering following the needlessly drawn-out sagas of both the Lendal Bridge and Coppergate penalty disasters."

Cllrs Keith Aspden, left, and Chris Steward

Council coffers have contained a ring-fenced pot of £387,000 since last year - on the advice of finance staff who wanted to make sure the money was available in case the council lost its legal battle.

Cllrs Steward and Aspden said the move would help put controversial transport policies of the council's past behind them - especially since the council lost a crucial legal fight over the Coppergate scheme.

Cllr Aspden added: "The most high-profile failure of the last Labour council was over transport and the bodged Lendal Bridge and Coppergate schemes.

"The legal judgements have been clear and damning. I think the new council now needs to draw a line under things by dropping any further expensive legal challenge and put in place a process for repaying all the fined motorists. We can then focus our efforts on practical attempts to tackle congestion and improve the transport system in York."

The Conservatives and Lib Dems took over City of York Council just a month ago, ousting the Labour administration that masterminded the Coppergate scheme and Lendal Bridge closures.

Council procedure now means a formal paper has to be drawn up by officials, before it can be debated and a final decision made by the authority's new Executive in July.

Restrictions have been in place on Coppergate for years, but the ANPR cameras were only used to catch drivers and send out fines during the Lendal Bridge trial closure from August 2013.

Although the scheme was abandoned last spring, a legal row did not conclude until April this year when the Traffic Penalty Tribunal finally ruled that City of York Council did have the power to fine drivers for using Coppergate, but said its "traffic order" was "drafted carelessly and obtusely" and criticised road signs which did not make the rules clear.

Refunds were announced for Lendal Bridge fines in July last year, but only to drivers who contacted the council to apply for their money back.

Eventually the authority started to write to drivers telling them refunds were available - a policy introduced by the then new Labour council leader Dafydd Williams.

In total, City of York Council has repaid 30,000 Lendal Bridge drivers - around half of those thought to have been fined.

Labour leader Dafydd Williams said yesterday: “I have said since becoming Labour leader that where it is right to do so that we will support the repayment of fines. However, this is a very different case to Lendal Bridge given that in the Coppergate case the adjudicator said that this decision was finely balanced and the Dept for Transport guidance is confusing.

"We now need to hear what the Conservative-led Coalition will do to reduce congestion in the city and whether Coppergate is now officially open to traffic, so people have clarity."