23rd Sep, 2018

REVEALED: £1m Coventry bus gate fines blasted by independent tribunal - but council ignored concerns

Les Reid 14th Sep, 2017 Updated: 15th Sep, 2017

THOUSANDS more drivers could have been unfairly fined after using Coventry council’s bus gates, damning independent legal adjudicator reports show.

Yet the council has failed to act after collecting at least £1million in fines for one of five bus gates in the city alone.

Appeals by many individual motorists against the fines over several years to the adjudicator have been upheld, it has emerged.

The adjudicator at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has also – in notifying the council – criticised inadequate signage at the bus gate under the Whittle Arches in Fairfax Street, which failed to properly notify drivers not to enter the bus gate.

It has also emerged that the independent adjudicator has for years made recommendations to Coventry City Council to improved the signage.

Yet those recommendations appear to have fallen on deaf ears – while fines totalling more than £1million for Whittle arch bus gate alone continued to support council funds.

Questioned about the independent adjudicator’s reports, councillor Jayne Innes, cabinet member for city services, claimed she was unaware of them.

She pledged today to read them for the first time and address the situation, while she continued to defend the council’s use of bus gates.

Around 95 per cent of appeals which went to tribunal were either withdrawn or successful.

The deputy chief solicitor at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has said in his own rulings that the tribunal generally thinks the signage is not adequate at the bus gate under the Whittle Arch, and has written to Coventry council suggesting it makes the signs adequate.

The average number of fines issued to motorists caught at Whittle arch in August last year was 122 per day, it has emerged.

Between 2013 and last year, 58,552 fines were issued to motorists, with an income of £1,059,910 to the council.

Last year, it emerged thousands of motorists were due refunds for fines due to administrative errors attributed to the government Department for Transport (DfT)’s paperwork. Coun Innes continues to maintain the actual road signs themselves had been correct and DfT approved.

Labour council leaders agreed in principle to refunds. But they refused to write to affected motorists to inform them.

The adjudicator’s reports and other material have now emerged following more painstaking work by resident and road campaigner Richard Heneghan.

Through a Freedom of Information request, he has also uncovered evidence that drawings in council paperwork falsely stated some advanced warnings, ‘Bus Gate Camera’ and ‘No Right Turn’ signs were in place on the approach from Swanswell pool to the Whittle Arches bus gate in August 2014. In fact, the council had removed them in 2012.

That false information had been sent by the council to the tribunals, it has emerged.

The tribunal adjudicator’s reports also support concerns that signs which were in place were not always visible to drivers when obstructed by other traffic.

Councillor Tim Mayer (Westwood, Conservative) moved a motion to refund over 13,000 fines in October last year totalling over £400,000.

He now says: “The council has filed the drawing with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal when defending appeals against a PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices).

“Therefore, the arbitrator would be misled into assuming the motorists had been adequately warned in advance as per the technical drawing.

“Nevertheless, the adjudicators (qualified solicitors and barristers) have ruled the signage is inadequate.”

Coun Mayer added one resident who could not afford the fine ended up with £400 in bailiff fees. He said: “If it is found that the fine was received due to an error it will be very disappointing and I believe action should be taken quickly to resolve it.”

The total number of allowed appeals is 79, and 57 were not contested by the council. Only four appeals have been rejected at Whittle Arch – due to instances were the motorist admitted seeing the signs but blamed sat navs or being unwell.

Coun Mayer added: “ My view is, if you disobey a rule or law you pay for it with whatever the consequence is.

“However we must be transparent and ensure we are beyond reproach. If our signage is incorrect or missing then we should put our hands up and fix the problem.. we should apologise and refund.

“Bus gates are intended to be deterrents, they should achieve pedestrian safety and safe and expeditious movement of traffic, particularly public services.

“It worries me that with these gates we seem to have over an average of 100 cars per day are going through them. This could be seen as evidence we are not achieving either of those goals.

“Bus gates are not and should not be used to drive revenue income.”

There are five bus gates which charge in the city – Whittle arch, Stoney Road, Park Road, Warwick Road and Gosford Street.

 

Subscribe

Receive a weekly update to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter.

Business Directory

From plumbers, to restaurants, we can provide you with all the info you need.

Property Finder 24/7

Search for properties in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

Online Editions

Catch up on your local news by reading our e-editions on the Coventry Observer.