City of York Council has prosecuted a second individual for blue badge misuse who was directly identified from a council campaign.
Council civil enforcement officers and Veritau – the company that investigates fraud on behalf of the council – offered a two-week amnesty in July for the return of expired badges without question or fear of legal action being taken.
Once the amnesty passed, proactive ‘enforcement patrols’ were carried out across York in August and November. Enforcement officers and investigators checked badges on display to confirm that they were still valid, that the badge holder was present and using the badge. Where misuse was found, penalty charges were issued as well as criminal investigations instigated.
During the course of Veritau’s investigation Mr Balsham was interviewed under caution. He admitted that his mother, the badge holder, had not been with him and that he knew he could only park on double yellow lines if the badge holder was with him. Mr Balsham stated he parked on Blake Street because he was visiting a nearby tea room.
Mr Balsham had also made two appeals to his parking ticket which had implied his mother had been with him when it was given.
The investigation concluded with Mr Balsham pleading guilty to all charges at York Magistrates Court on 13 February 2018. The court gave him a fine of £40 and he ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £30 and court costs of £408.
A blue badge should be handed back to the council if:
· It has expired
- · The badge holder is no longer eligible to use one
- · It is a replacement for a badge lost or stolen and the original has since been found
- · The badge is so damaged or faded that the details are not clear
- · The badge holder has died.
There has been a big increase in the number of Penalty Charge Notices issued to drivers breaking the access only restrictions on Coppergate.
The latest figures suggest that the York Council could receive as much as £1/2 million in fine income during a full year.
The Council originally budgeted to receive around £100,000 in fine income
The change has come since officials stopped issuing “warning letters” to first offenders.
Since these stopped in the summer, the number of notices issued has crept up to reach 801 in November the latest figure available on the Councils web site
Coppergate before ANPR cameras were re-introduced
The main concern, when the Council chose to switch ANPR cameras back on at the beginning of the year, was reputational risk. The ill-fated spy camera trial in 2014 – which encompassed Lendal Bridge as well as Coppergate – hit visitors to the City particularly hard with many vowing never to return.
How many of the new batch of offenders is local has not been revealed although Freedom of Information requests should break though this secrecy.
It was pointed out last January, that Coppergate was deserted for most of the day and therefore the camera surveillance was unnecessary.
It seems though that the Council has discovered a major “cash cow” and now needs to maximise the fine income to balance its books.
The Council seems to be struggling to keep up to date its records of fines imposed following the reintroduction of spy camera enforcement of the access restrictions on Coppergate.
Figures released, covering the period to the end of April, confirm an upward trend.
With the peak tourist season approaching, that trend is expected to continue
The York Council has published a list of contraventions of it’s revised ANPR camera enforced access restrictions on Coppergate.
To date, 82 Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) have been issued.
Some drivers have received warning letters for “first offences”
Potentially the PCNs might bring in around £35,000 in a full year – less if fines are paid promptly or appeals are successful.
However, we are only just entering the tourist season and we know from the Lendal Bridge debacle that many visitors to the City are vulnerable to these byzantine access regulations. York’s international reputation is once more on the line.
It seems unlikely that the Council will reach its budgeted income figure of £100,000 – unless of course it intends to roll out ANPR camera enforcement to other streets.
Administration costs for spy camera enforcement systems are high so it may be the taxpayer who eventually faces a hit.
Another £400,000 to be paid out to fined motorists
The traffic adjudicator has rejected the York Councils appeal over fines issued for breaches of the Coppergate access restrictions.
It means that drivers who were caught and fined during the trial period (August 2013 – March 2014) on the route will be entitled to have the fines repaid.
It also puts paid to any idea that the Council may have of switching its spy cameras back on.
The Council may have a right of appeal to the High Court over the ruling but it seems unlikely that the new Councillors, who are due to be elected on 7th May, will pursue that costly option.
In total over £2 million was unlawfully taken by the York Council in fines on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate.
Even when it was clear (after only 6 weeks) that the trial had gone badly wrong and should therefore be suspended, prominent Labour Councillor Dave Merrett refused to suspend the restrictions.
His chances of re-election on 7th May must now be fading along with the hopes of other Labour Cabinet members who also failed to act to end the scandal.
Both major opposition parties have promised a full public inquiry into the circumstances which led the Council to act unlawfully. Labour declined to hold such an inquiry when they were in office, with Green Councillors also voting against a probe for the truth.
Report published – administration to cost extra £150,000
The Council Cabinet will decide on 20th January how to implement the Councils decision to “automatically” refund those who were fined during the Lendal Bridge trial.
So far 12,512 refunds have been issued by the Council.
The most likely course of action is that all 35,000 motorists, who have not yet claimed a refund, will be written to and advised of their opportunity to claim.
After that the process will be much the same as the scheme currently in operation.
The cost of sending out and managing the notification process is put at £150,000. The money will come from grant income which otherwise would have been spent on public services in the City.
In total the Council took around £1.8 million in fines from the Lendal bridge and Coppergate schemes. The Council continues to pursue a claim that the Coppergate fines were levied lawfully but their appeal has been outstanding for over 9 months now.
Additionally, over £700,000 was spent on implementing and administering the original schemes.
The Council is shying away from simply putting a cheque in the post to the registered vehicle keeper details that its agents have on file. They fear that many of the payments would not reach the right people (hire cars, parental cars, foreign tourists, deceased etc) and Legal Counsel have said that such an option could jeopardise the Councils Coppergate appeal.
All in all it now looks like the Lendal Bridge experiment will cost over £1 million.
That is money which could, and should, have been spent addressing road safety issues across the whole City.
The Cabinet member with responsibility for Transport (now Cllr Levene following Dave Merretts sacking last week) will be asked on Monday to sort out the continuing Lendal Bridge refund crisis.
Although no background report has yet been published, it seems likely that the first step will be to scrap the 31st December deadline for the Council to receive refund requests.
Quite how the Council will “automatically” refund the remaining fines remains to be seen as does the result of the Council’s appeal against similar unlawful charges which were levied in Coppergate.
The York Council has tonight finally agreed with the support of 42 Councillors (with 3 abstentions) to repay the fines that it imposed unlawfully on motorists using Lendal Bridge during the restricted access trial.
Most of the Labour Councillors who had previously opposed repaying the fines executed a U turn of the type often witnessed on Museum Street during the trial period.
The proposal was tabled by Liberal Democrat Leader Keith Aspden
It is of course a decision which should have been taken in September 2013 when it became clear that the trial had failed.
15 months later it will be too late for some.
Those who have in the interim died, those who have moved home, those who have changed bank accounts as well as many who live abroad, may even now not find the fines are as easy to obtain as many would hope.
However it is an end to part of the saga with any inquiry, into the irregularities that took place, likely now to have to wait until after the elections in May.
Attention will now turn to the appeal relating to the imposition of fines for the extended hours restrictions on Coppergate.
If that appeal by the Council, against the traffic adjudicator ruling, fails then the repercussions for taxpayers and/or local service standards could be considerable.
Only 5500 motorists have so far applied for repayment of the fines – unlawfully imposed by Labour – on drivers using Lendal Bridge during the closure trial which started in August 2013.
This represents only a little over 10% of the total penalty notices issued.
Labour have set an arbitrary deadline of the end of December 2014 by which applications for refunds must be made.
The responsible Cabinet member claims not to know where the applications originated and the suspicion remains that tourists and other visitors to the City remain largely unaware that the refunds are available.
As we have said before, the reputational damage to York is irreversible but we believe that the new “balanced” Council must take immediate steps, to write to all these who were fined, telling them about the refund process.
It also seems reasonable to remove the deadline for applications.
With Labour having lost their overall Council majority they will no longer be able to block a public Inquiry into the actions that they took during the Lendal Bridge fiasco
Separately the Council has confirmed that its appeal against a parallel ruling on fines imposed on Coppergate, using similar signage and enforcement methods, has still not been heard.
Currently no enforcement action is taking place of the Coppergate access restrictions.