The Northern Echo
Wednesday October 5, 2005
by Mark Summers
A council will have to pay back more than £2m to motorists it allegedly "fined" illegally for parking infringements, the campaigner who uncovered the situation claimed last night.
Penalty charge notices issued by Sunderland City Council are invalid because it did not follow the correct procedures when applying to the Government to take over parking enforcement from the police, according to anti-European Union campaigner Neil Herron.
Mr Herron, who discovered the blunder, claimed last night that 60,000 notices could be unlawful and that the Labour-run authority would have to refund £2m to the drivers who received them.
The council has admitted that it did not implement meaures recommended in 2001 by outside consultants it hired to advise on the new system, introduced in 2002. It has launched an investigation into why this has happened.
It has admitted collecting almost £28,000 from drivers who parked in taxi ranks, without having the power to do so, and almost £6,000 from disabled badge holders who parked in loading bays, even though they are exempt from the restrictions.
Mr Herron, who had been campaign advisor for Metric Martyr greengrocer, the late Steve Thoburn, said the entire decriminalised parking regime in the city centre could be illegal as measures it told the Department of Transport were in place had not been carried out.
He said consultants produced a report detailing 1,000 errors in the preparations that needed to be corrected before the new regime was approved by the Government.
Mr Herron, who has 30 parking tickets against him, said: " Because the traffic orders are incorrect, all the tickets issued are incorrect. Because the Secretary of State has been misled, the whole regime doesn't exist and all the tickets are invalid. The council says it has issued 60,000 tickets. At an average of £40 per ticket, that is more than £2m."
A council spokeswoman said it was "undertaking a review of all aspects of its decriminalised parking system. As the review progresses, immediate action is being taken where necessary to rectify, clarify or update legal or operational aspects of the system."
She said the majority of motorists who parked in a taxi rank had already been reimbursed and it is trying to contact the remainder. The council will be making refunds to 182 disabled badge holders who received notices for using loading bays.
" It has become apparent that any penalty charge notices have been issued incorrectly, the council will take action where appropriate to remedy the situation," said the pokeswoman.
The review would also identify why measures proposed in the consultants' report were not implemented.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
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