COUNCIL chiefs have stopped issuing fines to drivers breaching controversial traffic rules on York’s Lendal Bridge and Coppergate – but are recording the routes in case penalties can be handed out later.
Traffic adjudicator Stephen Knapp last week said City of York Council had no power to issue penalty charge notices (PCNs) to motorists breaching the restrictions. The authority has since said it has received legal advice that it was acting “within the law”.
The council intends to appeal against the Traffic Penalty Tribunal’s judgement, although cabinet member for transport Coun Dave Merrett said he would have to quit if it is found thousands of drivers should not have been fined.
Darren Richardson, director of city and environmental services, said: “Following legal advice, 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.”
He said 95 per cent of drivers obeyed the Lendal restrictions during the trial, and breaches had “peaked and started to decline”. He said after trial data collection was completed, enforcement levels were reviewed and reduced, meaning since the experiment ended on February 27, PCNs had not been issued to every private vehicle breaching the restrictions.
In an email to Lib Dem leader Coun Keith Aspden, council chief executive Kersten England said the legal advice could not be made public as it “will be used for the internal appeal process with the adjudicator”.
Coun Aspden said the advice and any legal costs should be published, saying: "We need to see the legal advice, know how much it cost and understand how much money Labour is prepared to throw at any legal battle.
“This is public money and the public have a right to know. I am concerned a decision appears to have been taken in secret to oppose the original ruling.”
The council said the advice from a QC would form the basis of any legal action it may take, and “no resident or organisation would ever weaken their case by putting it into the public domain ahead of proceedings”.
Andy Docherty, head of legal services, said councillors could discuss seeing the advice with him, but had no right to a copy.
Coun Merrett said last week that he was "obviously pleased" with the legal advice. On his position if it was deemed fines were unlawful, he said: "If that is what happens at the end of the day, I accept we have got it wrong to that extent, then I would have to resign or whoever."
More than 53,000 motorists were sent PCNs during the six-month Lendal Bridge trial, which ended on February 27 but with the restrictions kept in place until the Labour cabinet decides on its future next month. Almost 10,000 Coppergate fines were issued between the end of September and the end of February.
In a statement last Friday, Ms England said the legal advice meant the council was "confident we are operating both Lendal Bridge and Coppergate schemes within the law".