Plenty of issues for Council candidates to get their teeth into

The new Scarborough Bridge cycle and footpath is due to open next week. Several of the paths linking to the bridge require resurfacing
Many other roads need to be resurfaced including Lady Road near Clifton School
The cycle path on The Mount is in particularly poor condition
Damaged fencing on Dame Judy Dench Walk near the “Inn in the City”
Corroded steps leading up to Lendal Bridge need a coat of paint

Dramatic increase in fines issued to Coppergate drivers

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.

 

Incident at Lendal Bridge, York

Serious delays to bus services in York

Police attended the Lendal Bridge scene at 3.03am Friday 17 February 2017 where a man had been found with serious injuries at the bottom of the steps on Dame Judi Dench Walk, Lendal Bridge in York.

The 25-year-old man from London has been taken to LGI where he remains in a critical condition.

Lendal Bridge is currently closed whilst police conduct an investigation to determine the full circumstances of the incident.

Anyone who witnessed anything which would be helpful to the investigation is asked to contact police on 101, select option 1 and speak to the Force Control Room. Please quote reference 12170027352.

Contractor was paid £238,000 to help enforce York traffic and parking restrictions

Lendal Bridge closure Nov 2013The York Council has paid a private company over £1/4 million over the last two years to help to enforce traffic regulations in York.

The Bristol based  ICES company specialises in IT software solutions and helped to administer the ill fated Lendal Bridge & Coppergate road closures in 2013.  Files  registered with Companies House reveal that the ICES made a profit of over £778,000 in 2015.

A different company is responsible for supplying and maintaining the four bus lane (ANPR) cameras which are still located in the City.

The York Council has not revealed the net costs of the Lendal Bridge fiasco although it is believed that a large number of motorists, who  were entitled to a refund, never actually claimed their money back.

The Council is currently consulting on plans to switch the ANPR cameras on Coppergate back on.

York Council underspent its budget by £876,000 (1%) last year

Floods cost City £3.3 million

Despite big overspends on Children’s Services (foster care, adoption and pay) higher than expected refuse collection costs and lower parking income (£233,000) the potential deficit was offset by savings on debt charges as a result of capital investment projects slipping.

Floods cost City £3.3 million

Floods cost City £3.3 million

A report to tomorrows Council Executive meeting reveals that the controversial decision to collect “co-mingled” recycling had added £200,000 to processing costs. Last year the Council claimed that dumping recycling materials into one lorry compartment would not affect budgets. It now says the additional processing cost is £70/tonne

Central government is bearing most of the costs of the floods although the Council has allocated £50,000 to be spent by “Make it York” on a publicity campaign while the costs of the post flood public inquiry are set at another £50,000.

The report also revealed that the Council still has £676,000 in the account set up to repay those wrongly fined for using Lendal Bridge and Coppergate during the ill-fated “spy camera” trial.

Council set to make £600,000 "profit" from unlawful fines levied on Lendal Bridge

Council set to make £600,000 “profit” from unlawful fines levied on Lendal Bridge

£1,226m was been reclaimed by drivers before the deadline for applications passed.  It remains to be seen what the Council will do with this money (although it must be spent on transport related projects)

The Executive is planning to put some of the surplus into a recycling fund, some into a scheme to appoint visitor welcome staff (“ambassadors”), some into support work to help low achievers at school and some into holding additional “job fairs”.

The rest will be put into reserves.

It is surprising that the continuing problems with street public services (blocked drains, weed chocked gullies, overgrown trees/hedges, potholed roads and footpaths) are not being addressed by using some of the surplus.

City centre access review by York Council

A number of options to “help further improve city centre access for pedestrians and give greater clarity of the restrictions to motorists” will be discussed on 12 November .

The Council’s last attempt to tinker with access arrangements ended in a farce as the closure of Lendal Bridge and Coppergate both had to be abandoned.

Coppergate - Time to move on

Coppergate – Time to move on

The Council’s Executive agreed last week to reinstate the access restriction  times of 8:00am to 6:00pm on Coppergate (although they will apply 7 days a week).

It remains unclear whether spy cameras will be deployed again to enforce restrictions.

The Council report  says, “York has one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe, which creates a safer and more attractive city centre for residents, businesses, shoppers and visitors.”

City of York Council carried out a review of its city centre pedestrian zone in 2012, which identified a number of improvements to help reduce city centre through traffic and ensure pedestrians continued to have safe access.

Building on this review, further proposals outlined at the time are now being put forward for consideration to simplify restrictions in the pedestrian zone further and create a better understanding of the traffic regulations in this area (e.g. loading and unloading times),

These include:

  • Extending loading and unloading times either side of the pedestrian zone to 7am (previously 8am) to 10.30am and 5pm to 7pm (previously 6pm). This will give delivery drivers more time and greater priority over general traffic.
  • Unify the access restrictions outside the pedestrian and loading only hours (as above). This will ensure drivers have more clarity on restriction timings whilst aiming to help reducing the volume of traffic in the city centre in the early evening and through the night.
  • Extend the road closure at the Nessgate / Spurriergate into the evening or through the night. Also investigate extending the period of time when the bollards are in place, to either reopen at some point during the evening or in the early hours of the morning.
  • Review the Blue Badge and Green Permit holders access in the pedestrian zone and reviewing the Piccadilly / Pavement / Stonebow vehicle access and enforcement.
  • Investigating vehicle access and enforcement on Piccadilly / Pavement / Stonebow / Fossgate / St. Saviourgate. These recommendations would tie in with the outcome of the Coppergate proposals, which will improve driver compliance with the regulations and reduce general traffic on key public transport routes through the city centre.

(more…)

Coppergate refund process and FAQs

Coppergate - Time to move on

Coppergate – Time to move on

Following approval by councillors on 30 July, City of York Council has opened the application process for the repayment of Penalty Charge Notices in relation to the traffic regulation of Coppergate.

 The application process will close on midnight on 31 March 2016.
An application must be made before midnight on 31 March 2016 in order for this to be considered for repayment. The deadline for Lendal Bridge applications has also been extended  until 31 March 2016.
All applications must be made online via www.york.gov.uk/coppergate , although support will be provided for anyone who doesn’t have access to the internet.

Full FAQs detailing the repayment process can be found on this webpage, or below.

Drivers are asked to read these FAQs relating to the repayment process before submitting their application.  (more…)

£387,350 Coppergate fines saga drags on

A report has been published which confirms that £385,000 of Coppergate fines will be repaid before 31st March 2016. The applications deadline for seeking Lendal Bridge refunds is also being extended to the same date.

The report pointedly fails to indicate the costs that will be incurred in writing to all the drivers who were illegally fined between August 2013 and April 2014.

Nor is any information provided indicting how much has been claimed back by drivers who were illegally fined for using Lendal Bridge.

In total, though, over £2 million is involved.

Coppergate - Time to move on

Coppergate -signs

The Council now needs to publish an up to date statement detailing all of the costs of this disastrous transport initiative.

The Council has now accepted that the signage used to indicate a change of access hours (an hour was added to the restrictions at the beginning and end of each day) was inadequate. The restrictions were later successfully challenged through the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.

12,269 drivers are thought to be entitled to a refund. Many were visitors to the City.

Council officials are not suggesting that the restriction order be revoked. Rather they suggest that better signage be installed following  consultation with the Department of Transport.

It is anticipated that the original restriction hours will be re-introduced (although the officer report is silent on this point)

The elephant in the room remains the future use of “spy cameras”.  The use of ANPR surveillance systems have been on the increase in recent years but the badly handled Lendal Bridge trial seriously damaged their credibility in the eyes of many York residents.

The cameras have not been used since April 2014.

In our view, the Council should abandon their use, in enforcing traffic restriction orders, unless there is a clear and specific safety issue that could only be addressed by the use of cameras.

Instead a uniformed Police officer could from time to time check that drivers were observing any restrictions of Coppergate.

If one or two drivers – whether by mistake or design – slip though the road during the day then that is something that the City will have to live with.

The Council will also have to decide whether to revive the idea of a public inquiry into the shambolic initiative.

In the past Councillors who acted recklessly with public money could be forced to pay compensation to taxpayers. Those concerned – most of whom lost their seats in May – may well be beginning to wish that they had heeded the warnings issued  by officials before the trials started and many aggrieved residents who – in the first 6 weeks – had pointed out the obvious failings in the project.

Congestion “Commission” was an expensive gimmick

Although there has been no official statement from the new coalition rulers at the York Council, it seems likely that plans to establish a “congestion commission” will be scrapped when it holds its first Executive meeting on 25th June.

The Council leadership are right to get some of the detritus that it inherited, from the last administration, out of the way quickly.

Similar statements of intent would be welcome on issues such as the future of the Guildhall, the Knights rugby club, Coppergate fines. Oliver House etc.

Coppergate - Time to move on

Coppergate – Time to move on

The “Commission” idea was floated by a discredited administration which was desperately trying to recover from the Lendal Bridge shambles. Rather than face the criticism that is usually attached to taking any decision about transport in the City, Labour hoped to deflect the odium onto third parties. Hence the establishment of a Commission which would no doubt have agonised again about congestion charging and the like.

The debates would have been at a huge cost to taxpayers – £135,000 was quoted.

The Council already has a transport plan. It was agreed in 2011 and offers a balance of initiatives aimed at reducing congestion. It needs updating, not least because the decision to bring a trial cross river access restriction forward from 2025 to 2013 has seriously damaged its credibility.

But any transport strategy has to be affordable. With dualling of the northern by pass still elusively outside the resources of even the “combined authority”, talk of trams, tubes, extra river bridges and river buses would be just that – talk.

A1237 dualling still illusive

A1237 dualling still illusive

Any updated transport plan needs to build on what has been successful over the past decade when congestion levels have remained more or less stable.

There has been some modal shift to cycles and walking. Buses were becoming more popular until Labour made the grand gesture of evicting the ftr without having anything half as attractive to passengers to substitute, while new roundabouts on the A1237 have eased bottlenecks.

Now Labour have played an old – and discredited card – when claiming that “80 people a year” die in York as a result of poor air quality. This was the favourite claim of former transport chief Dave Merrett who – after much pressing – admitted that the figure was simply a local extrapolation of national respiratory death statistics.

No one knows how many local deaths, through respiratory diseases, are caused by the pollutants emitted by vehicles (or industry for that matter) but most would, no doubt,  support verifiable actions to address locations where pollution levels are sometimes high (mainly narrow terraced streets like Gillygate).

New electric bus fleet launched last week

New electric bus fleet launched last week

So some marks should be awarded to the last Council for beginning the roll out of the type of electric buses first trialled in the City in 2010.

More of this kind of thinking – making the best use of advancing technologies – will take the city forward in a measured and affordable way and with a reasonable chance of carrying the local population with it.

28,153 drivers apply for Lendal Bridge refunds

Only 3 from non UK residents

The York Council has responded to a Freedom of Information request about the progress made in offering refunds to drivers who were fined for driving over Lendal Bridge.

Sight seeing bus on Lendal Bridge

The Council decided, after pressure from opposition parties, to write to all affected drivers telling them of the process for claiming refunds.

The refunds were offered after the traffic adjudicator ruled in 2014 that the Council had acted unlawfully.

The Council has now confirmed that 27,181 letters were sent to drivers on 13th February.

In total 28,153 applications for refunds have been made although this figure does include some duplicates.

Since the decision to send out the letters a total of £334,921 has been refunded.

The Council has broken down by the postcode of the applicant the refund applications which have so far been successful

  • 3,506  applicants have YO postcodes
  • 15,782 are from the rest of the UK
  • Only 3 appear to have originated outside the UK

Taking into account the refunds made last year, a total of £689,531 has so far been refunded.

At the March 2014 Council meeting Cllr Merrett, who then was responsible for the trial closures on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate, admitted that over £2 million had been raised in fine income.

With the Council now having been judged to have acted unlawfully on Coppergate as well as Lendal Bridge, it seems likely that a further tranche of letters will shortly be going out advising more drivers of their right to a refund.

Commenting former Council Leader Steve Galloway, who submitted the Freedom on of Information request, said,

 “Clearly many thousands of drivers did not know about their right to a refund.

Opposition Councillors have been vindicated for their decision to ask that all drivers be notified by letter of the refund process.

It is unfortunate that so few foreign visitors have responded to the letter. This rather suggests that the reputational cost of this project failure may be with us for several more years

I hope that the Council will act quickly to refund fines levied on Coppergate and will be more circumspect in future when rolling out new technology like ANPR cameras