Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Lester Cowling's Parking Battle ...

Dorset parking ticket battle: Lester Cowling’s story

WHEN I returned my car to find I was being giving a parking ticket I felt as if I was being mugged.
Less than five minutes before I’d been speaking amicably with the Traffic Warden. He’d seen me get out of the car, he’d seen that I’d not noticed the parking machine, and he’d let me walk off. Then he’d given me a ticket. He was, it appears, simply obeying orders. It’s not council policy for Traffic Warden to alert motorists to the fact they may be about to commit an offence.

In fairness to him, his notes to some extent accord to my recollection.
He claimed he’d shouted after me. If so I hadn’t heard him. Neither apparently had anybody else in Dorchester’s High West Street – somebody would have pointed it out if a Traffic Warden was trying to get my attention.

He said I should have been aware that a new pay and display scheme was in force because it had been widely advertised in the Press and on commercial radio.
It was a theme taken up by Parking Services Manager Anne-Marie Goodbody who wrote to me in December 2009: “The new pay and display scheme was advertised in the local press and on the radio.”

This statement was untrue. Checks revealed no advertisements were placed in the press and no commercial had been aired on radio.
Eventually, in May last year, the County Council conceded there’d been no advertising. Why had I been told this untruth?

To bully me into submission and into giving up my fight?
This was just the start of it. My problem with the pay-and-display sign was that it was on the very edge of the pavement and you needed to step out into the busy road to see it.

Suddenly at the beginning of last year it, and others, were realigned. Now they could be easily read from the pavement.

After several weeks I wrote to ask why this had been done. Had it been because of protests from other motorists? If so, that would have had a bearing on my case. The County Council declined to say how many others had protested. Instead they returned the signs to their original alignment.

I’m not anti parking regulations or parking charges.
There are 60 million of us on this crowded island and there’s got to be rules.
But there has to be fairness too.
I wasn’t the only one caught out.

Others started to complain. Parking Services Manager Anne-Marie Goodbody insisted to the Dorset Echo there was an appeals process for those who felt aggrieved. So I thought, let’s give it go. The experience has been an eye-opener.

Appeals are handled by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, an organisation funded by participating councils. It has the final say and its rulings cannot be challenged. They scheduled a hearing for last September which I’d agreed could be held over the phone. I’d been assured it was unlikely anybody from the County Council would want to be involved. It would just be me and the adjudicator.

Still, I prepared fully, returning from a trip a day early and re-arranging work. A few hours before the hearing was due I was told that it was off. The County Council claimed its notification of the appeal had been delayed in the post, had only turned up late the previous afternoon and Mrs Goodbody was away on holiday and she might want to be involved. I protested. This was typical of the contempt with which these bodies treat the public.

The decision, I was told by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, had been made by an adjudicator and therefore couldn’t be questioned. Maybe, but what the Tribunal was in effect doing was acting at the beck and call of a junior member of staff at Dorset County Council.

What evidence was there that there’d really been a delay with mail?
More likely, it seemed to me, administrative chaos. The adjudicator obviously hadn’t regarded me as important when it came to making his or her decision.
And what was all this about letters delayed? Surely these people can use email? It turned out they weren’t allowed to do so unless both parties officially consented.
Local government!

Under pressure they agreed to do so in future. But agreeing that involved a dialogue between them from which I was excluded.
I began to wonder just how close Dorset County Council and the Traffic Penalty Tribunal really were.

How many other dialogues go on from which appellants are excluded?
Is the Traffic Penalty Tribunal a body capable of policing parking regulation?

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