“DELUDED” Coventry council has “misled” and “confused” fined motorists with its inadequate city centre parking zone, a damning tribunal verdict has ruled today.
The scathing Traffic Penalty Tribunal judgement has overturned five appealing motorists’ fines – concluding they were “unenforceble”.
And it paves the way for potentially thousands more motorists to appeal against fines for unwittingly parking in the city centre’s Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ).
Many have felt they were unfairly fined – because of poor signage tellling them were not allowed to.
Today’s hard-hitting report comes after we recently highlighted further confusion and chaos with double yellow lines remaining in some city centre streets – in breach of the council’s own rules – and were only removed following our stories.
The Restricted Parking Zone throughout the city centre – inside the ring road – was introduced for 2012.
It prevents motorists parking anywhere within the city centre, except in designated parking bays/areas – and the council was supposed to have removed all double yellow lines and installed adequate road signage to properly inform drivers of the rules.
As we have reported, road safety campaigner Richard Heneghan and opposition councillors Tim Mayer and Tim Sawdon have been among arguing drivers were being stung by a lack of signs.
Councillor Jayne Innes, cabinet member for city services, has repeatedly tried to play down any problems with both the parking scheme and fines for motorists entering bus gates, even though the tribunal has also repeatedly inadequate signage for those too.
Chief Adjudicator Caroline Sheppard OBE, the tribunal lawyer, states in the report today: “I conclude that such is CCC’s (Coventry City Council’s) enthusiasm for the concept of a city centre zone bounded by Ringway that they are blind to the fact that motorists unfamiliar with Coventry are confused and effectively misled into thinking that the street where they parked is unrestricted.
“CCC have lost sight of the Guidance at paragraph 1.1 of Chapter 3 of the Traffic Signs Manual advising that, ‘Traffic authorities should always remember that the purpose of regulatory signs is to ensure that drivers clearly understand what restrictions or prohibitions are in force.’
“Inevitably there are experimental schemes, where a motorist encountering something different may not recognise what the traffic authority intended.
“Many authorities recognising this decide not to penalise ‘first-time users’, but use the opportunity to expain the unfamiliar scheme so that it will be understood in future.
“That approach encourages understanding and subsequent compliance without resorting to a plethora of signs.
“In Coventry, however, the number of PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices) issued since 2012 should be evidence enough that the over-large RPZ (Restricted Parking Zone) is not readily understood by motorists.
“Yet CCC, seemingly with a determination and delusion reminiscent of King Canute himself, has continued to enforce PCNs.
“The disgruntlement on the part of some of today’s Coventry citizens about the imposition of parking penalties in the city centre echoes that felt by their medieval forbears about the tolls imposed by Earl Leofric, causing his wife, Lady Godiva, to undertake so memorable a protest to draw attention to their plight.”
She also states: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
“If the street layouts successfully created a self-enforcing environment that CCC promised the DfT, then most motorists would realise that parking is restricted despite the absence of yellow lines, and not park there.
“Of course, there will always be a small proportion of deliberate risk-takers so 100 per cent compliance will never be achieved.
“At the hearing I asked CCC (Coventry City Council) to produce the number of penalty charge notices that had been issued in the RPZ since the implementation of the scheme.
“They produced a table showing that from October 2012 to August 2017 CCC issued 58,356 PCNs in the RPZ. The table shows a month-by-month breakdown. These equate to a fairly consistent 30 PCNs per day.
“Of course local people will have become aware of the the intention behind the RPZ scheme.
“However, bearing in mind the university within the RPZ will always generate frequent and varied traffic from from far and wide, and the visitor attractions by their very nature involve strangers to the city, the assertion made to the DfT at the meeting that ‘there is very little traffic in the city centre, except for buses’ was wishful thinking.
“With PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices) issued with that consistency and persistency, year on year, it must have dawned on CCC that the the RPZ scheme was far from ‘self-enforcing’, and that motorists regularly fail to understand where parking is restricted.
“Even on a case by case basis, they must have realised that streets like Cope Street and Warwick Lane were confusing, giving the appearance of unrestricted parking.
“I find that:
* At each of the locations where the PCNs subject to these five cases were issued CCC had failed in its duty under Regulation 18 of LATOR to bring the waiting restriction to the attention or road users.
* Looking at the RPZ on a street-by-street basis the gateway signs do not have the practical effect of informing motorists that waiting is restricted in every street within the mile-wide zone.
* Some of the gateways signs are placed so that in the context of the streetscape and speed of approach, the information about parking restrictions are not reasonably conveyed.
* Repeater signs are not placed in suffiicient numbers of places to conform to the TSM guidance
* The DfT authorisation relates to the format of the signs and cannot be relied upon as an endorsement that the signs effectively inform motorist of waiting restrictions within the zone.
“It follows that I find that the waiting restrictions in the streets subject to these appeals are unenforceable… The penalty charge notices must be cancelled.”
We have requested a response from the council and Coun Innes.
Coun Mayer responded on Twitter by calling for Coun Innes to be replaced in her cabinet role.
He tweeted: “Time for Innes to make way for some who can clear up this mess and ensure we provide signage that is complaint, clear and doesn’t put our residents on the back foot. I want to see unfairly taken money refunded.”
Mr Heneghan said: “This ruling ratifies what the public and council employees have been telling senior management for a number of years. We hope the council accept the ruling and focus on issuing refunds and addressing the high number of issues in Coventry city centre.”
Colin Knight, Director of Transportation and Highways for Coventry City Council, said: “Our Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) remains fully approved by the Department for Transport (DfT) and our scheme continues to be enforceable.
“Our signs were designed in partnership with the DfT and the whole point of implementing this zone back in 2012 was to make parking in the city centre consistent and easier to understand. In fact, following introduction of the RPZ the number of parking tickets issued fell and it has achieved our aim of making the city centre more attractive and has contributed to boosting economic confidence .
“We are extremely disappointed with the Adjudicator’s comments and we are instructing a barrister to see what grounds we have to challenge her findings.”
Coun Innes tweeted: “Not getting into twitter spats – but enforcement issues (including of parking tickets) sits with Deputy Leader, not me. This was raised and spelled out at Full Council some weeks back. I’m responsible for roads and signs, but The Adjudicator sits with enforcement.”
Even if decisions on fines and enforcement are handled by others, the Restricted Parking Scheme is her responsibility, in her cabinet portfolio.