COVENTRY council’s leadership has failed to apologise and was this afternoon accused of being “totally irresponsible” in failing to openly address an independent tribunal’s scathing criticisms of a city centre parking scheme in which 60,000 motorists have been fined.
Throughout the debate, council leaders not only failed to say sorry, but failed to clearly or fully acknowledge the scheme’s flaws independently identified by the independent experts.
Council leader George Duggins, deputy Abdul Khan and city services cabinet member Jayne Innes came under fire at today’s Extraordinary General Meeting called by Tory councillors.
It follows the Traffic Penalty Tribunal chief adjudicator’s report which blasted the council’s failure over years to address the “misleading” and “confusion” of motorists by the city centre’s Restricted Parking Zone, and its inadequate signage.
The report had gone further in accusing the council of having the “delusion reminiscent of King Canute” on the matter.
Conservative councillors Tim Mayer and Tim Sawdon pointed to the recent erection amid the furore of 101 new signs – that further inform motorists of the no parking restrictions within the ring road, except in parking bays.
Yet Coun Duggins – characteristically of leading councillors and highways officers on the issue – today further defended the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZs) and went on the counter-attack against Traffic Penalty Tribunal chief adjudicator Caroline Shephard’s report.
Coun Sawdon responded: “Listening to Coun Duggins, one would be led to believe the adjudicator is some kind of nutcase… They are experts on these issues.. To casually dismiss what is in her document is totally irresponsible.”
He also said: “Coventry citizens are not affluent cheats. It is more likely they didn’t comprehend what they were supposed to be doing and that’s what the adjudicator makes clear.”
He pointed to her conclusion that such RPZs across the country were intended only for single streets and small areas where they could be understood by motorists, not an entire city centre.
Coun Mayer said the council’s hiring of an independent barrister following last month’s tribunal judgement – who advised the scheme was still enforceable subject to adequate signage – was like hiring a barrister to produce a favourable conclusion after a court had established a guilty verdict.
The council has dodged the Coventry Observer’s repeated questions over how much money has been spent on the barrister, and who it is.
Coun Mayer said the council quietly putting up 101 new signs since last month in 25 new streets showed there were major problems with the scheme since 2012 which had been ignored – even when many motorists’ appeals against fines were being upheld at tribunal.
He called for an apology from Coun Innes for ‘misleading’ council with repeated statements which defended the RPZ and its adequacy.
But the debate quickly descended into an angry political slanging match, with Coun Duggins, Coun Khan and Coun Innes going on a personal counter-attack against Coun Mayer.
Coun Innes shouted that Coun Mayer should apologise for his false claims she had misled.
She told the meeting: “I would never dream of misleading anyone let alone full council.”
Coun Mayer responded quietly by saying he had no intention of apologising for doing his job of holding her and the council to account. He said he had repeatedly failed to get straight answers to questions.
Coun Duggins said his estimated £3,000 cost of holding the EGM – when a debate could otherwise have been held in a full council meeting – was irresponsible of the five Tory councillors who signed the motion.
He added he had considered individually billing them for it, and would do so for any further such “wasteful” EGMs.
Coun Khan countered claims the council had failed to contest 2,000 appeals by motorists because it knew it would lose, by claiming it didn’t want to “persecute” motorists.
He said the 101 additional new signs were intended to prevent further motorists’ confusion.