THE controversial closure of a city centre bridge - and the thousands of fines it has generated - have been thrown into doubt by a Government adjudicator.
Stephen Knapp of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal found that the warning signs approaching Lendal Bridge in York and others approaching new restrictions at nearby Coppergate, were ambiguous, inadequate and confusing.
And he said that as neither of the schemes could be "sensibly" described as bus lanes under current regulations, the City of York Council had "no power to issue a penalty charge notice".
The daily 10.30am to 5pm closure of Lendal Bridge – linking the city’s station with the Minster - has caused widespread anger since it was imposed last August for an experimental six-month trial.
More than 53,000 motorists were issued with penalty charge notices after being caught on the enforcement cameras, generating about £1.3m in fines.
Although the trial period came to a close at the end of February the closure still continues pending a meeting of the Labour-controlled council’s cabinet in May when a decision will be made on whether to continue, extend or abandon the scheme.
Mr Knapp visited the city in February to assess both schemes as he investigated the appeal of a driver who had been issued with a parking fine for using Coppergate – an appeal he has now upheld.
However City of York Council insisted motorists should still adhere to the restrictions, with director Darren Richardson saying they were now seeking independent legal advice.
“We will also be speaking to the Department for Transport, who approved signage used for both schemes,” he said.
“The restrictions will remain in place on Lendal Bridge and Coppergate and we would urge drivers to continue to adhere to these.”
He added: “We know that a number of councils nationally will be concerned about this decision and the implications this may have in their area.”
Local Tory group leader Chris Steward said the news “would be thought by anybody new to York to be an April fool".
And he added: “For those of us familiar with the farcical saga, it is entirely predictable given the poor signage, misleading 'restricted access' and the lack of information on where Lendal Bridge even is. For the good of York, I reiterate my group's call for Lendal Bridge to be reopened."
And local Lib-Dem transport spokesman Anne Reid said the ruling showed what an “utter fiasco” the issue had become.
“If I was somebody who had received a fine, I would be demanding my money back,” she said.
Lawyer Nick Freeman, known as Mr Loophole when it comes to traffic matters issued a statement after the ruling.
"The council had no power to levy these fines and therefore the totally penalty charges of approximately £1.3m should be reimbursed to the 53,000 motorists who have been issued with these penalty charge notices," he said.
"I would strongly urge all of the 53,000 motorists to contact York City Council by letter or email requesting a refund of their money."
He added: "This ruling could have potentially huge implications for other councils nationally who have similar schemes in operation."