Campaigner takes on council over 26 tickets
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
By Ross Smith
EVIDENCE: Campaigner Neil Herron arrives at Sunderland City Library to contest the validity of 26 parking tickets he has deliberately collected.
An independent parking adjudicator yesterday said he would "need a lot of convincing" that a North council was acting lawfully after hearing it had two separate sets of traffic rules for the same stretch of street.
The claim came in a tribunal at which campaigner Neil Herron is appealing against 26 tickets he has deliberately collected around Sunderland.
Mr Herron used the hearing to bring up a series of flaws he claims could bring down the entire parking regime in the city centre.
On one road, Frederick Street West, the council admitted it had two separate traffic orders in place - one imposing 'no waiting' restrictions, while the other made provision for parking bays.
The adjudicator, Andrew Keenan, asked the council: "You can't have that, can you? How can the motorists possibly know what's going on?"
Council parking services officer Earl Belshaw said the 'no waiting' restriction "sits underneath" the parking bays. But Mr Keenan told him: "I'll need a lot of convincing on that."
Mr Herron also claimed that in an area around St Thomas Street, the traffic order provided only for a single yellow line running across a series of junctions, without gaps. But barrister Stephen Sauvain, on behalf of Sunderland Council, said: "It must be a matter of common sense. Nobody is being misled as to what they can do."
Mr Herron claims flaws in the system make the whole controlled parking zone, which sets out waiting restrictions in the entire city centre, invalid.
A consultants' report prepared before the council took control of parking enforcement in 2003 identified more than 300 potential errors with signs, markings and traffic orders. The council said last year many still had not been put right.
A decision on the appeals was deferred by Mr Keenan. Mr Herron faces a four-figure fine if he loses the appeals.
And the evidence grows ....
Rarely can a simple parking ticket ever have caused so much havoc, as at yesterday's tribunal.
The signs of the legal wrangles to come were there when Neil Herron entered the room carrying a dozen files stuffed full of evidence.
Ten minutes into the hearing, fellow campaigner Colin Moran walked in beneath a further stack. "Is Rachel on her way with the other three bundles?" Mr Herron asked him, as the adjudicator, Mr Keenan, visibly paled.
Mr Herron may fail in his attempt to undermine the parking regime in Sunderland city centre, but he has probably succeeded in undermining a similar-sized chunk of rain forest in Brazil.
Despite being opposed by a senior QC, the adjudicator was sure Mr Herron would not be overawed.
"You're a very competent, lucid appellant in my view, and you seem to have more knowledge of this case than, I expect, anybody else in this room," he said. But Mr Keenan had obviously reckoned without retired ship's captain, now another veteran Sunderland parking campaigner, David Green. To the adjudicator's apparent alarm, he was summoned by Mr Herron to present a slide show of "thousands" of photographs and traffic signs, which he cheerily declared were "not in any logical order". Within minutes Mr Herron's star witness was sent back to his seat, with the adjudicator grumbling about him "messing about with his computer."
Mr Keenan insisted on finishing by 4.45pm so he could catch a train back to London. He is unlikely to look back with fond memories on his visit.
Contract review follows comments on film
Sunderland Council leader Bob Symonds yesterday announced a review of the city's parking control contract after comments made by attendants were caught on film.
A file has been handed to police after the comments by staff at NCP, who hold the contract, were aired during a television documentary. The review could see parking enforcement brought back in house by the council, handed to a new contractor or the agreement renegotiated. NCP has held the contract since Sunderland Council took over parking control from the police in 2003.
Coun Symonds plans to hold urgent talks with NCP. Yesterday he said: "I was disgusted and I'm as concerned as everyone else in the city about the remarks that were made."
He also expressed anger about comments concerning disabled people.
"It is certainly not what we expect from our contractors."
Coun Symonds said the remarks would be referred to the police and the contract put under review.
NCP spokesman Tim Cowen said the firm had launched an immediate investigation into attendants' conduct.
"As an employer we cannot condone the language used in the programme, but it was not clear the level of entrapment used." he said.
"The BBC refused to show us any footage of it and we are deeply suspicious about the way it was compiled."
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
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