A Fine Mess
Sunderland Echo,By Simon Marks, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds of motorists will have their parking fines overturned after blundering council workers wrongly dished out penalties totalling £21,000.
Sunderland council today admitted it had no authority to hand out 700 tickets to drivers who had parked in taxi ranks across the city.
They are now calling on any of the motorists who paid a £30 fine for parking at a rank since February 2003 to come forward for a refund.
The admission comes less than a week after political campaigner and former 'Metric Martyr' Neil Herron claimed the entire parking-warden system in Sunderland is illegal because specific legal orders have not been made.
But council bosses have dismissed that claim, saying its whole parking system remains 'legally robust and valid', although it confessed it made an error with the taxi-rank enforcement.
The latest blunder has come to light after more investigations by Mr Herron, 42, of The Westlands, Barnes, who said the correct legal order to enforce parking restrictions in the taxi ranks, had not been put in place.
A Spokeswoman for the council said: "A number of penalty charge notices were issued incorrectly to motorists who were illegally parked in taxi ranks.
"Although parking in taxi ranks is illegal, it is not currently an offence for which a fixed penalty is applicable under the decriminalised parking enforcement system.
"As a result we will be taking steps to identify and reimburse the motorists concerned.
"We have identified that about 700 penalty charge notices were paid after being issued by parking attendants acting in good faith against drivers who were breaking the law and causing inconvenience to taxi drivers and the public by parking in clearly designated taxi ranks."
Phil Barrett, director of development and regeneration, the department responsible for enforcing parking restrictions, said: "Although the issue of these tickets was an error and is regrettable, it affected only a very small proportion of the 61,000 plus tickets issued since the decriminalised parking system came into force in February 2003.
"It is an anomaly relating to the implementation of just one aspect of the city's parking system.
"The decriminalised parking system itself remains legally robust and valid, ensuring the safe and efficient moving and parking of vehicles throughout the city for the benefit of public and businesses alike."
Mr Herron Said: "The question has to be asked why motorists should be having to beg for their money back when the council has acted unlawfully.
"They should've been refunded straight away. This is the tip of a large iceberg and heads will have to roll."
Coun Peter Wood, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said: "Proper parking arrangements are very important to keep traffic running smoothly.
"When the wheel comes off like this you really begin to loose faith in the people who are meant to be administering these schemes."
Anybody who thinks they may have been charged wrongly should contact the council, tel: 553 1521