Friday, November 11, 2005

Parking meters face new reverse

New claim in traffic laws controversy
The Journal
Friday, November 11, 2005
By Ross Smith

The controversy surrounding Sunderland's traffic laws deepened yesterday with claims the city's entire stock of parking meters could be invalid.

Sunderland Council has already admitted handing out fines to vehicles for parking offences it did not have orders to enforce, and is currently returning £33,767 to motorists.

This week, it announced it is putting in place new traffic orders governing marked on-street parking places in the city.

The authority's chief executive, Ged Fitzgerald, said the city simply wanted to "rationalise and update" the current orders, made in 1993 and 1996. But the campaigner who uncovered the earlier errors claims the move has been prompted because the original orders became invalid when the council took over enforcing parking laws from the police in 2003.

Former "metric martyr" Neil Herron says that would also render the meters invalid and fines for parking without a ticket would also have to be returned.

He is demanding an investigation by the authority's head of internal audit, Paul Davies.

Mr Herron said: "It appears that the more and more that is uncovered, the more and more it reveals what an absolute shambles this whole affair is".

The authority has already admitted it did not implement recommendations from an independent report on parking commissioned in 2001. It is carrying out a review to find out why this happened, and why no offer was made to refund motorists who were wrongly fined until 18 months after the errors were first discovered.

A series of road markings and street signs have been altered during the investigation, and city solicitor Bob Rayner has acknowledged drivers caught out by the incorrect signs could be entitled to their money back.

The council has said in a statement: "If it becomes apparent that any penalty charge notices have been issued incorrectly, the council will take action where appropriate to remedy the position."

But it refused to expand on the statement last night, or say when the review, which was ordered in early September, would be completed. However, Conservative group leader Peter Wood said he had been told a report is expected in December.

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