An investigation carried out by City of York Council has uncovered and successfully prosecuted a case of disabled blue badge fraud.
Andrew Nichol, aged 61 of Stonegate Court, York, was caught misusing a family member’s blue badge in the city centre earlier this year. An investigation into the misuse was conducted by Veritau, the council’s fraud investigation service, following information from a parking officer.
Blue badges make it easier for people with disabilities to travel and maintain independence. However, they are open to abuse. Under the regulations, a blue badge can only be used when the badge holder is present, or being picked up or dropped off.
On 21 February the blue badge was spotted by a council parking officer, displayed in a parked vehicle on Duncombe Place. The badge’s details were checked by the fraud team and the badge holder’s location could not be verified.
When Mr Nichol returned to the vehicle, he told the parking officer that the badge holder was at his home and he was going to pick them up. Investigators later found that the owner of the blue badge was not waiting to be picked up by the driver. Mr Nichol was asked to participate in a written interview under caution but failed to respond. The investigation concluded with him being prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act 1984 for wrongful use of a disabled person’s badge.
No plea was entered and Mr Nichol failed to attend court, but the case was heard in his absence at York Magistrates’ Court on 9 October 2020. He was found guilty and received a fine, plus court costs and a victim surcharge, totalling £1,169.
A report which looks at how the York economy has fared since the pandemic started has been published today. It looks mainly at the City centre although it markedly fails to reveal traffic levels on, and within, the inner ring road.
Instead it highlights trends on major trunk routes. Generally, these reveal that traffic levels have risen to about 90% of the levels seen in February (which itself is normally the quietest month of the year in the City)
Car park occupancy levels are very high. Castle, Marygate, Bootham Bar and the Esplanade have reached record high levels.
This bears out the conclusion in the report that visitors from outside the City have been coming in large numbers and they mostly drive to City centre car parks.
Park and Ride numbers have slumped along with public transport passengers more generally. Both are down to 30% of the numbers seen in February. Clearly COVID fears account for this change in transport preferences.
The figures provided also don’t provide any information on the numbers using two wheeled transport. Given the clamour for more cycle lanes, that is surprising. Elsewhere in the country the numbers cycling are up slightly (but not when it is raining!).
There may be a lack of data available to the Council on transport patterns.
They admit that only 2 of the “footfall” cameras are currently working and that a replacement system has yet to be implemented. The available data suggests that footfall is around 20% down on the equivalent period last year. The report claims though that spend per head is comparable to last summer.
The numbers claiming out of work benefits has trebled. It may get worse when the “furlough” scheme comes to an end. More stats can be viewed by clicking here
The Council says that it is setting up a “board “ to supervise training initiatives which will counter increasing unemployment.
It is right to focus on education as this will pave the future for the City. It is, however, unlikely that a 20 member committee will be sufficiently agile to make much difference.
The Council approach is likely to be criticised for overly focusing on the City centre. Out of town shopping destinations like those along the ring road don’t get a mention and even local centres at Bishopthorpe Road, Front Street and Haxby merit only a passing review. No footfall figures are provided nor are empty commercial priority trends analysed. In the case of Front Street a promised economic review by a consultant was shelved during the lockdown.
Front Street lies in the Westfield Ward which has the highest unemployment rate in the City
Marygate car park has been full today with around half a dozen cars at anytime patrolling the service roads waiting for someone to vacate a space.
The 40 odd spaces on the railway side of the car park are still coned off. There is little use made of these by cyclists and an alternative is available – using the service road – only a couple of feet away.
The old shared use footpath is also very lightly used making social distancing easy.
Residents will wonder what it takes to get the Council to review this obviously perverse decision.
Perhaps the Groves counter-revolutionaries will pay a visit and realign the cones?
In the meantime the Council is losing around £400 a day in car park charge income.
With City centre car parks very busy this week, it is surprising that LNER haven’t taken the opportunity to sell more spaces on their otherwise largely empty car park at the railway station.
Not many people are going to pay £18 for a days parking but the company could help themselves by marketing spaces at a discounted rate.
At the moment they are bringing in no income for the beleaguered, state owned, outfit.
The one hour of free car parking in many of York’s car parks is to continue during September. Other changes have been made which will also see a cheaper “Minster Badge” introduced.
It was another “behind closed doors decision” with the following changes agreed
Extend the 1 hour free parking initiative which has been in place for August to the end of September and increase the marketing and promotion to drive up the take up of the offer.
In October to launch a new Minster Badge offer which would be valid until the 31st March 2021 for the cost of £2, the equivalent of one evenings charge. Minster Badges provide free evening parking and a discount to residents who purchase one.
To standardise the time evening parking charges commence in off street car parks where evening charge is applicable to 5pm for Minster Badge Holders seven days a week until the end of March.
To reduce the coach parking tariff to a flat rate of £6.70 per hour (similar to the current hour charge.
Changes to the parking machines will cost £10,000
The Council has not revealed how many motorists took advantage of the discounted parking rates offered in July and August. It does say that car park use has increased back to traditional levels quicker than was anticipated.
It has not released, for general use, the spaces at Marygate and Monk Bar car parks which were taken out of service a couple of months ago.
An extension of the taxi service to and from Monk Bar car park for blue badge holders until the end of September has been agreed. No details of the level of use of this service have been revealed by the council.
NB. At the end of the Summer Holidays the temporary toilet provision that was installed on Parliament Street will be removed.
The results table has been updated to show the actual date of positive tests in York plus three more positive test results. . This is now available of the government web site click
Monk Bar car park shuttle service news
A Council official has agreed to extend the free taxi service for disabled users which links Monk Bar car park to the City centre. The little used service had been due to end but has now been extended to 6th September.
A behind closed doors meeting held yesterday heard that “the usage thus far has been low but is slowly increasing and it allows that to be monitored, mindful that those shielding have greater freedoms from the 1st of August”.
The opportunity to reduce the number of parking spaces allocated for the service was not taken, so they are likely to remain unused for the remainder of the busy summer period.
The Designer Centre has been busy this week. Typical 15 minutes wait for access. Good news for the local economy.
Virtual permits which can be managed by resident via an online portal, with alternative options for customers without internet access;
Cashless trial at Marygate car park alongside introduction of the new pay on exit system;
Extension of operating hours at Piccadilly car park (until 8pm)in line with the longer opening hours of the footstreets;
Renaming of Piccadilly car park to Coppergate Centre car park to provide a better and unique identity to this key Council asset;
Update to Traffic Regulation Order for some permits to better represent customer requirements, such as introducing parking permits solutions for guest houses, AirBnBs and other holiday lets;
Update Parking discount criteria to make this consistent with other Council Services;
Residents paying for parking permits at the council’s Customer Centre will no longer be able to use cash to support the prevention of COVID-19 contamination. The same will apply for Penalty Charge Notices once a solution has been put in place
Proposed changes, if accepted, will go live at the end of the year
The Council is taking urgent action to change access arrangements on Fossgate and part of Walmgate.
It follows complaints from residents and traders who have been unable to service their premises during the extended pedestrian hours.
It is understood that this has adversely affected trade.,
The Council says, “The current arrangements were installed as part of the Councils emergency COVID response to facilitate pavement cafes and reduce vehicles to support the Economic Recovery. Although consultation was undertaken, the businesses on Fossgate and the yards are reporting negative impacts. This change would allow resolve many of the issues with the temporary arrangements currently in place.
This change continues the displacement of blue badge parking. The council is conscious of this and has put in place mitigations including off street and on street blue badge holders and continues to keep this under review. Understanding the impact is a focus of the current consultation”
The Council has now agreed two modificatiosn to teh traffic order.
1. To approve an emergency change to the Temporary TRO currently in place on Fossgate, to manage one way vehicular access on Walmgate/Fossgate during the day through a “no motorised vehicles, except for access” restriction between 10.30am and 8pm, with two dedicated loading bays on Walmgate/Fossgate and a loading ban for the remainder of the street, and a staffed access point during footstreet hours..
2. To undertake further engagement with traders and residents on Fossgate (including Walmgate, between Fossgate and the junction with Merchantgate) and those gaining access to properties through Fossgate on what future temporary arrangements look like.
As usual the decision was taken at a “behind closed doors” decision session without any prior notice being given.
Face masks will have to be worn in shops from today. It remains to be seen how effective this government policy will be.
What is now clear is that some of the impulsive decisions taken a couple of months ago, at the peak of the pandemic by the York Council, have not met the test of time.
Tinkering with traffic systems without proper consultation or impact assessments was always a recipe for failure.
Crucially no attempt was made to define how success would be measured.
So how have they fared?
Bishopthore Road lane closure
This was intended to provide queuing space for shoppers. It was claimed that it would make social distancing easier.
Critics pointed to new hazards for cyclists on the contraflow lane, increased congestion & pollution on alternative routes and a missed opportunity to trial an off peak pedestrian area (10:30am – 4:00pm) approach.
The results have been disappointing with the alternative Nunnery Lane/Blossom Street/ Scarcroft Road suffering for increased congestion. Bus services have been adversely affected. There has been short cutting through residential areas like St Benedict Road where parking is also now a problem
There is little footpath queuing on the east of the shopping area. The forecourted shops on the other side have adequate space although bollards have reduced flexibility.
Verdict – scrap it
An ill considered scheme which missed the opportunity that part time pedestrianisation might have offered.
Fortunately there have been no accidents involving cyclists yet, although northbound traffic levels remain below average (as they do across the whole of the highway network)
Reduced social distancing requirements (now one metre rather than two) and the introduction of face masks should lead to this trial being abandoned. A more thorough consultation on the options for the Bishopthorpe Road area could then take place.
One of the general traffic lanes across Foss Bridge on the inner ring road was repurposed for cyclists (southbound) . The lane had been coned off while maintenance work on the bridge was carried out in the early spring.
Most cyclists opt to use the riverside off road path. Comparatively few choose to use the inner ring road.
Verdict – retain and consult on its future
There has been little congestion on this section of the inner ring road although general travel patterns are not expected to return to pre COVID levels before September.
The cycle lane has been obstructed on occasions by delivery drivers, taxi pick ups etc. so the solution is less than perfect.
Monk Bar car park disabled spaces
The Council allocated 40 spaces at the Monk Bar car park for blue badge holders when additional access & parking restrictions were introduced in the City centre (e.g. Goodramgate). A “free” taxi service link to the rear of Kings Square is offered. The decision – like several others – was taken by the Councils acting chief executive with no prior consultation.
Blue badge holders can park on single yellow lines and park free of charge at Council car parks.
The little used taxi service is costing taxpayers £354 a day.
It appears that no attempt was made to assess the demand for disabled parking spaces at Monk Bar or for the taxi link. The Council didn’t specify the use of low emission vehicles on the taxi contract
Typically no more than five blue badge holders are parking at Monk Bar at any one time. The remaining general parking spaces are being increasingly used but the car park has yet to reach the full occupation levels seen before the pandemic. The Council has also recently allocated more on street parking spaces for blue badge holders in streets like Duncombe Place.
While the initiative was well intentioned, the Council hopelessly misjudged the demand for the service.
Verdict – revise the scheme
The number of reserved spaces can be reduced and the taxi link abandoned. Consultations can take place with disabled group representatives and traders on other options. These might include a “home to city centre” subsidised taxi service for the disabled where costs are recompensed when goods are bought.
Marygate car park
Around 40 parking spaces have been cordoned off. The Council claimed it was to allow cyclists to avoid joint use of the footpath (which links Scarborough Bridge to Bootham Terrace). In turn this helped to maintain a two metre social distancing zone.
The scheme was criticised when proposed because if failed to assess the effectiveness of the obvious alternative (encouraging cyclists to use the internal car park service road) which would have involved the loss of only one parking space.
There were bigger problems on other routes from Scarborough Bridge both at the north (Marygate) end of the bridge and crucially at the station itself. A narrow tunnel connects the shared cycle/footpath to Bootham Terrace.
The introduction of one metre social distancing guidelines and the use of face masks will reduce any health threat.
Observations at the car park suggest that the cycle route through the parking spaces is very little used (with some cyclists opting to use the service road anyway).
The car park has been busy on occasions but has not yet reached capacity. This may change if August is as busy as it has been in the past
Verdict – amend the scheme to allow cyclists to use the car park service road.
There is no Coronavirus heath justification for routing cyclists through car parking spaces. The break in the perimeter fence can be retained – and one place bollarded off – to allow access via the service road to Bootham Tce and Almery Garth. A ramp to St Mary’s – promised but never delivered – would be a useful for both cyclists and disabled buggy users.
The Council should sort out an acceptable route for cyclists wishing to access the route from Scarborough bridge to Lowther Tce (long term plans for the station frontage remodelling need to recognise this demand)