‘Repay all the fines and end the Lendal Bridge farce once and for all’

8 Dec 2014 @ 10.04 pm
| Opinion, Politics, Transport

Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden says the council has a chance to restore a reputation tarnished by the traffic ban

A fine mess… Lendal Bridge. Photograph: Richard McDougall
On Thursday (December 11), councillors will have the opportunity to help draw to a close one of the longest running political controversies in York.

We will vote on a policy to repay all the 55,000 motorists fined for crossing Lendal Bridge during City of York Council’s trial closure. I will move the motion and it will be seconded by Independent Councillor Mark Warters.

The incoming Labour leader says he supports the move as does the Conservative leader. Today, the National Motorists Action Group has backed our motion.

A farce throughout

Put simply, the Lendal Bridge trial was the most high profile misadventure of James Alexander’s time in office. The trial ran from August 2013 to April this year and was a farce throughout.

From a lack of consultation, to unclear signs, to residents, breweries, vicars and cricket commentators getting fined; the trial went from one calamity to another.

Fifty-five thousand motorists were fined in total and visitor organisations highlighted the possible reputational damage it had done to ‘brand York’.

A ruling from the Government Traffic Adjudicator saying that the council had “no power” to issue the fines in the way it did, eventually brought the trial to a humiliating end.

Baffling decision

Legal challenges followed. However, once the council dropped its legal challenge against the adjudicator’s ruling on Lendal Bridge, the authority should have agreed to repay all the fines.

It is baffling that the council didn’t and, as recent exposure on BBC One’s Watchdog shows, this decision continues to damage our city’s reputation.

Instead of full repayment, a poorly publicised online application process was set-up with many of those fined having no idea they had a right to reclaim a refund – not surprising as 80 per cent were from outside York and many from overseas.

Indeed latest figures show that a mere 10,593 have been repaid so far through this process, which is still due to close at the end of the month.

The impression of a Dick Turpin council wanting to hold on to as much of the £1.8 million fine money as possible began to take hold. A damning report into the trial, unearthed by my colleague Andrew Waller, did little to change peoples’ perception.

Welcome change of heart

After James Alexander’s resignation, Liberal Democrats took the opportunity to make fresh calls for automatic refunds. This was followed by the annoncement that new Labour Group Leader Dafydd Williams also wanted to repay all the fines.

A welcome move, but one which many felt strange because as a Cabinet member he had seemingly supported the decisions taken by the ruling Labour Group. Nevertheless, the change of heart is welcome.

Passing the motion is important because it shows there is cross-party agreement on the failure of the trial and the injustice of hanging on to the fine money. It also means we can formally instruct officers to put in place a process for repayment.

There may still be a need for a review of the trial to understand how the council got it so wrong for so long. A move to repay all the fines will at least allow us to move things on and finally begin to put the troubled waters of the Lendal Bridge trial behind us.