Lendal Bridge/Coppergate latest

 

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The media are reporting that Labour Councillors will decide tonight whether or not to scrap the access restrictions on Lendal Bridge.

This may be so. They have to find a way out of the mess before they get embroiled in expensive legal proceedings and before the government is asked to step in and take action.

Labour operate a strict “whip” system. That means that whatever the majority of the Group decides everyone subsequently votes for the party line at committee and Council meetings. It also means that electors never actually find out what their representatives actually think of proposals!

There is talk of having a “Special Council Meeting” to discuss and determine the issue at some time over the next week.

Lovers of the theatre might appreciate such an event, but it is not strictly necessary.

The Lendal Bridge restrictions, at least, can be suspended immediately (as they should have been on 28th February) with a proposal to formally revoke the traffic order being approved at the next Cabinet meeting.

Coppergate

Coppergate

It was, after all, the cabinet that approved Dave Merrett’s report and proposal at its May 2013 meeting.

But getting to the bottom of what really went wrong will require a detailed, almost forensic, examination.

That is where the Councils all party scrutiny committees should be involved.

That would leave the tricky problem of Coppergate.

Although access restrictions are never popular with everyone, general traffic has been excluded from Coppergate for nearly two decades.

What Labour did a year ago was to extend the hours of operation of the ban and install ANPR cameras to enforce the new restrictions.

As we pointed out yesterday, Council officials had raised concerns in early 2013 about the plan but the changes were made anyway.

We doubt if the majority of residents would want to return to a day time  free for all on a narrow street like Coppergate, which lies in the heart of the central shopping area.

We suspect most citizens would however like to be consulted on options.

In the meantime the Council had better concentrate on finding ways of addressing the issues raised by the traffic adjudicator.

Lendal Bridge – Council appeal could take over 3 months to be determined

Lendal bridge notice

Sources within the Council have admitted that it is unlikely that the result of their appeal against the ruling of the Traffic Adjudicator on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate will be known for over 3 months.

This means that if a decision is – as planned – taken at the May cabinet meeting, on whether to make the restrictions on Lendal Bridge permanent, then Councillors will not know whether they could be legally enforced.

It also means that anyone driving on the roads at present – and for several weeks into the future – could not have PCNs enforced against them because they would be outside the 28 days time limit.

Labour given 24 hours to scrap access restrictions on Lendal Bodge

The Council’s Labour leadership have been given 24 hours in which to withdraw the traffic access restrictions on Lendal Bridge

If they fail to do so, the government will be asked to intervene and hold a public Inquiry into the fiasco.
May report quote Coppergate
Labour have always been at pains to claim that the funding for the scheme had come from central government,  although in reality the Council could have chosen to use the money on other projects aimed at improving public transport.

Now, with the prospect of the government money going down the drain, plus the possibility of £2 million in fine income having to be reimbursed, the Labour leadership have been told to bring the sorry saga to an end.

Council reports (see right) reveal that doubts about the use of ANPR cameras had been raised within the Council over 12 months ago.

Local government Minister Eric Pickles has been critical of Councils that misuse their powers and particularly those who exploit motorists vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile the Council has been asked to urgently clarify how many motorists on both Coppergate and Lendal Bridge have been issued with PCNs each week since 28th February (when the bridge trial was supposed to end).

A Council statement earlier today suggested that a smaller proportion of drivers had been issued with FPNs but failed to say who made the decision and who decides who should and who should not be fined

Now its officially Lendal Bodge!

The Council have now said that they are no longer issuing fines to motorists misusing the access restrictions on both Lendal bridge and Coppergate.

As we predicated last week, the Council would have been unable to sustain any PCN notices following the decision of the Traffic Adjudicator that ANPR enforcement was unlawful.

Having maintainedCamera for nearly a week that they were “unable to say” whether the cameras had been switched off (as they should have been on Lendal bridge at the end of the trial period on 28th February), the Council has confirmed that no fine notices are being issued.

Apparently the cameras are still recording.

If the Council hopes to use this information, then legally they only have 28 days in which to issue the PCN – much less than the period likely to be necessary for them to progress an “appeal” against the Traffic Adjudicators ruling.

So big brother is watching and waiting

and the Council’s war against its own citizens is stepped up.

The Council statement reads

During the trial 95 per cent of drivers have adhered to the restrictions in place on Lendal bridge and the number of vehicles breaching the restriction had reached a peaked and started to decline. We’ve always said the trial was not to generate revenue, but to reduce traffic going over the bridge and through the city centre, as part of a long-term vision to create an even more attractive and thriving city centre for everyone.

As such, once the six month data collection had been completed, the council reviewed and reduced the levels of enforcement, at its discretion, during the restricted hours. Since this point, not every private vehicle breaching the restrictions has received a PCN. This is in line with similar schemes around the country.

 “Following legal advice on the trial, restrictions will remain in place and recordings will be taken of any breaches of the restrictions along both Lendal Bridge and Coppergate.
Fines will not be issued upon these recordings until further legal process.
Drivers are urged to continue to adhere to the restrictions in place.”

Breaking news – York Council refuses to release Lendal Bridge legal advice to Councillors

Lendal Bridge closure Nov 2013

The Lendal Bridge controversy has taken a darker turn this evening as it has been revealed that the Councils Chief Executive Kersten England has refused to release information about Lendal Bridge to opposition Councillors.

She was asked to provide a copy of the legal advice that she claims to have received and which allegedly supports the Councils use of ANPR camera based prosecutions on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate.

We understand that she has refused to release the information saying to one senior Councillor “It is privileged legal information and will be used for the internal appeal process with the adjudicator”

So clearly the Labour Leadership have decided – without bothering to hold a decision meeting of any sort – to appeal against the traffic adjudicators decision.

This is particularly high handed way for Council officials to behave. They seem to forget who is funding the “legal information” and who ultimately will have to pick up the bill for any subsequent legal action.

Democratically elected Councillors should make decisions like these.

If officials chose do so then they step over the line of what is acceptable behaviour in a democracy.

We would expect the government to step in to address what is now a clear abuse of power.

Lawyers celebrate York Council Lendal bridge decision

It looks like rich pickings are at hand for lawyers as the York Council has decided to continue issuing PCNs on Lendal bridge and Coppergate using ANPR evidence.
Agree to disagree

The latest twist to the pantomime comes as the Council announces that a legal opinion supports their stance.

Now we all know that you will always be able to find a lawyer who will argue the number of celestial beings that will fit onto a pin. That’s how some of them make a living.

But what is now clear is that the Council had privately already decided to make the traffic restrictions on Lendal Bridge permanent and they re now desperately trying to find a way of salvaging their unpopular policy.

The Labour leadership have completely forgotten that they are supposed to speak up for York residents not conduct a war against them.

Kersten England, Chief Executive of City of York Council, said: “Having received independent legal advice from a leading legal expert in this field we are confident we are operating both Lendal Bridge and Coppergate schemes within the law. “We also take assurances from Oxford, who contested with a similar appeal with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and successfully won.” The restrictions will remain in place on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate and drivers are urged to continue to adhere to these.

and as local Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden has pointed out this is all costing the City, its visitors and residents huge amounts of money.

“I am asking the Chief Executive to publish a full copy of the legal advice given to the council. We also need to know how much this legal advice is costing taxpayers.

“To continue with a policy which the Government’s Traffic Adjudicator has ruled is unlawful seems like a gamble, which is why residents need to see the advice the decision is based on.

“The closure has been a shambles from the beginning and Labour need to stop dithering and make a final decision on the future of Lendal Bridge.

“We think the enforcement cameras should be turned off immediately and Lendal Bridge reopened. Labour need to stop hiding behind council officers and actually say what they are going to do.”

Lendal Bridge/Coppergate fines income now over £2 million

Lendal bridge without traffic

Lendal bridge without traffic

The York Council has today published answers to questions raised at its last meeting.

In a response to Cllr Ann Reid, Cllr Merrett admits that the Council has now banked over £2 million from PCNs issued to drivers.

The Council claims “only 2 appeals have been successfully contested” against the charge although it admits that many appeals had “not been contested by the Council.

The full response to the question posed can be read here.

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Lendal Bridge – cameras still working?

Camera

Claims have been made that the use of the ANPR cameras, to enforce traffic restrictions on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate, has been suspended.

The Council would have had little choice but to do this as, if having received independent advice that their use was unlawful, the Council could have faced maladministration claims from any drivers who received PCNs.

The Council have refused to say whether PCNs have been issued over the last 2 days using ANPR evidence.

The Council have, however, said that the traffic order has not been revoked and the signage is still visible. That means that a uniformed police officer could, in theory, try to enforce the restrictions.

The traffic adjudicator yesterday also highlighted other flaws in the Councils management of the restrictions, so any PCN would be likely to be rescinded on appeal.

The Council Leader has now belatedly decided to blame Council officials for the fiasco.

He has asked the Chief Executive to undertake an internal review the matter, describing the Councils actions as “not to a standard that I would expect”.

Given that the Chief Executive and Council Leader work hand in hand on a daily basis this particular piece of political camouflage is unlikely to fool anyone.

It is reminiscent of the comments made in Labour party Emails earlier in the year when they sought to distance themselves from the unpopular plans

An all party scrutiny committee should – meeting in public – undertake a proper review of what went wrong on a project that has seen  the City being ridiculed across the whole country.

In the meantime the Lendal bridge trial should be suspended. The cameras in Coppergate should be switched off at least until they can be proven to be lawful. Enforcement of restrictions there should once again rest with the police.

Meanwhile the Lib Dem Leader says that the Council has “lost control of events”  

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Lendal Bridge and Coppergate fines – York Council acted unlawfully rules independent adjudicator

Call for resignations at Council

Lendal Bridge signs

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for York’s Labour Council it has.

Reports are coming in that the governments independent adjudicator has ruled that fines issued using ANPR cameras on both Lendal Bridge and Coppergate are unenforceable.

The consequences for the Council which has raised around £1 million from fines levied in both locations are likely to be far reaching. Any driver who chooses to appeal against the fine is now likely to have the charge refunded.

In some cases the Adjudicator has the power to order the Council to pay the appellants costs.

In the main, the adjudicator has criticised the signage used to advertise both orders.

He also concludes that Lendal Bridge could not reasonably be regarded as a “bus lane” given the number of exemptions given by the Council.

We have said all along that the Council closed the wrong bridge, in the wrong year and using the wrong method of enforcement.

They compounded their mistakes by failing to consult properly and by relying on inadequate signage.

The Cabinet members with responsibility for the scheme should now resign.

The ANPR cameras should be switched off immediately.

A more measured approach to improving transport systems in York in the future is required.

The full test case adjudication result can be downloaded by clicking here

City centre visitor numbers show small increase in February

increase-footfall-retail

Continuing mild weather, and a recovering economy, boosted visitor numbers in York City centre by 3% during February compared to the same month in 2013.

Although the increase is less than is being experienced in similar High Streets elsewhere in the country, no doubt tourism chiefs will point to the success of special events such as the Viking Festival as part of the explanation for the reversal in fortunes.

The modest increase is unlikely to be enough to deflect criticism from the unpopular Lendal bridge closure which continues to dog the reputation of York City centre.

Huge increases in car parking charges – which are scheduled to be introduced later in the spring when York residents will lose their “Minster badge” discounts – are another cause for apprehension.

The first Saturday in March saw 38,882 visitors recorded on the Parliament Street footfall cameras.

This compared to 50,054 on the equivalent Saturday last year.

The full footfall figures can be seen by clicking here.