Saturday, January 31, 2009

Newcastle City Council's refund dilemma ...

As Newcastle City Council's lawyers deliberate over the blunder that has seen the Council enforcing parking tickets in areas where signs were being used to indicate the effect of a Traffic Order which they revoked in 2001 the BBC headline below highlights what will have to be done.

The Department for Transport have confirmed that the problem £30 Fixed Daily Charge signs were to be authorised for use with a specific Traffic Order and that order was revoked in 2001. Since then the council have issued 185,000 £30 charges which have not been underpinned by any legal authority.

However, it is understood that this is one of the reasons why the DfT have postponed Newcastle's attempt to replace the criminalised parking enforcement regime they have at present with the more lucrative civil parking enforcement regime.

When an identical situation arose in Ceredigion an admission was made immediately and every attempt was to be made to refund the money.

We expect Newcastle City Council to confirm the areas affected and confirm that enforcement will be stopped until the signs are removed or until they are given Special Authorisation from the Secretary of State for their use. Failure to do so could lead to the courts being clogged with re-opened cases and appeals ... and an even bigger cost burden.

Refunds after parking fine error
BBC 10th December 2008
One of the 14 streets in which fines were incorrectly issued
Thousands of parking tickets are estimated to have been wrongly issued to motorists in a seaside town over the last two years after a mistake.

Ceredigion Council and Dyfed-Powys Police said people fined for parking in Aberystwyth town centre since November 2006 could apply for their £30 back.
They are trying to trace those affected by the "systems failure".

The error was found when the council went to renew a traffic order and found the original had not been updated.

Police said their officers and council wardens would not be issuing £30 parking tickets until a traffic order was in place in the new year.
In the meantime, drivers have been urged to park sensibly and warned they could still be booked for obstruction.

Alfred Place
Bath Street
Baker Street
Corporation Street
Crynfryn Row
Eastgate Street
Great Darkgate Street
Market Street
Owain Glyndwr Square
Portland Road
Portland Street
Queen's Road
Terrace Road
Upper Portland Street

It is thought the blunder could cost cash-strapped Ceredigion council thousands of pounds.
Officials said the error came to light when it tried to update a town centre "experimental traffic order".
A council spokesman said: "Both the county council and the Dyfed-Powys Constabulary are working in close collaboration to attend to the issues arising from the systems failure that occasioned the experimental traffic order, covering the Aberystwyth town centre traffic restraint area, not being updated in November 2006.

"All parties are united in their resolve to assist members of the public deserving refunds on parking tickets issued during the interim period. It is expected that a new order will be in place early in January 2009."
Chief Inspector Robyn Mason of Aberystwyth police said many motorists could be affected.
He added: "There could be thousands of motorists eligible for refunds, and we are doing our best to trace them."
Ch Insp Mason asked motorists to collate as much information as possible when applying for a refund.
People issued with a ticket in the town centre since 11 November 2006 could qualify.
They are asked to contact the council's highways department, quoting the reference TM2008.

NCP Services' Tim Cowen has had a busy week defending the indefensible

I must be careful however, 'cos last time I wrote about a parking matter involving Mr. Cowen and NCP Services he told me I had spelled 'indefensible' wrong so let's have a look at this week's excuses ... and we shall see who is going through a bad spell ...

The first one is ... Parking Ticket for Funeral Vicar reported by the BBC. Hearse outside a church. Photo of vicar on Blue Badge. Mourners telling the Civil Enforcement Officer it was the vicar's car and a funeral was taking place. Spokesman Tim Cowan said: "The CEO who issued the ticket is adamant that at no time did anyone explain the car was owned by a vicar conducting a funeral. "
Would like to know on a believability scale of 1 -10 as to whose word you would accept. The vicar and churchgoers or the NCP Services employee. To check out how Mr. Cowen responded when faced with similar accusations that his employees were less than honest click here

Second one is what you would call 'Bang to Rights Guv.'
Veteran parking campaigner, and fellow TalkSPORT guest Barrie Segal exposed illegal activity by a NCP Services Civil Enforcement Officer in the City of Westminster. The story was reported in the News of the World last Sunday and shows a CEO faking evidence. Great work by Barrie and the NOTW.
NCP Services spokesman Tim Cowen insisted wardens were not on commission, saying: “There is no incentive to us to issue these unenforceable tickets.”

It must be pointed out that the tickets are only 'unenforceable' when the motorist knows the law and catches the CEO out as in this case. If it is shown that this is common practice then there must be a Police investigation. All the money from fines issued at this location must be refunded immediately.

Had a parking ticket in Newcastle? This one's black and white ...

Catching up after a hectic few weeks there are a few pretty big bombshells about to hit the parking 'industry.'
The first one is local and has been simmering for quite a while and involves Newcastle City Council's paring regime. This situation highlights the absurdity that is parking enforcement in this country. Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead all operate decriminalised (or civil) parking enforcement whereas Newcastle still operates under the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act and therefore parking penalties are non-endorsable criminal offences.

Under the criminalised regime you are allowed to appeal to the Magistrates Court rather than an 'independent' adjudicator (funded by the council). The Magistrates are truly independent of the council and any appellant is likely to get a fair hearing.
Newcastle City Council operate a 'Fixed Daily Charge' scheme whereby such a charge is applied should you fail to adhere to the signed terms and conditions (whether it be loading / pay and display / disabled etc.).

Because the £30 Fixed Daily Charge signs are not prescribed in law in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 Newcastle required Special Authorisation from the Secretary of State. This was granted in 1997 and the conditions applied to a specific Traffic Regulation Order ... which was revoked in 2001.

Enter Roberto Campoli ... a Sunderland musician who acquired a Fixed Penalty Charge whilst unloading his equipment from a Loading Bay outside the Carling Academy where he was playing a gig. His crime was that his car did not look like the vehicle indicated on the Fixed Daily Charge sign ... and therefore he got a ticket. He appealed and was given short shrift by Newcastle City Council ... and then approached us. We established, after acquiring the papers from various sources that the Special Authorisation related to a Traffic Order that had been revoked in 2001. The Department for Transport at first claimed to be unable to find the front page of the document but after intervention by Lord Lucas the damning evidence was revealed. We had already obtained a copy previously and had submitted it to the Court as part of a skeleton argument for Mr. Campoli. On his third visit to the Court on 19th January 2009 Newcastle City Council decided to offer no evidence. The press and media were informed.

We are currently awaiting a response as to how Newcastle intends to progress with other outstanding Fixed Daily Charge matters but it appears that they have had no legal authority to issued such penalties since 2001. It appears as though they are in a hole and their legal department are looking into it.
How much is at stake ... well, with 185,000+ tickets at £30 a pop it comes to over £5.5m. If you have paid such a ticket or currently have one outstanding the drop us a line and we will give you copies of all the evidence
Meanwhile, read Roberto's tale below. The song by his band Black Sun will be released soon.
Roberto's parking-fine protest song
Roberto Campoli has composed a protest against his parking ticket.

26 January 2009
Parking charges are not fine says fed-up musician Roberto Campoli.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back on the road again

Parking fine protest song to be released

Roberto's parking-fine protest song
Roberto Campoli has composed a protest against his parking ticket.

26 January 2009
Parking charges are not fine says fed-up musician Roberto Campoli.
He was thrilled to land a gig at Newcastle's O2 Academy, in Westgate Road, with his band Black Sun.But before he had even unloaded the band's gear from his car, a traffic warden gave him a ticket for parking in a loading bay. Furious Roberto, from East Moorside, Sunderland, contacted Newcastle City Council and was told only vans unloading equipment could use the bays, in Fenkle Street.The 22-year-old music student challenged the £30 charge in court.
>>Click here to check out Black Sun

But when he arrived at Newcastle Magistrates' Court last week he was told the case had been dropped.Now he has put pen to paper to compose a song about his troubles.Roberto says he has written songs about current affairs, but is not a political campaigner."I'm just a normal lad from Sunderland. I don't really know much about the law, I just saw something I thought was unfair."I don't know any bands that have vans unless they are touring professionally and have big coaches.

Parking campaigner Neil Herron helped Roberto put his legal case together. He claims Newcastle City Council did not have legal permission to display traffic regulation signs like the one Roberto fell foul of.He said: "It seems if you don't know the law they will take £30 off you. This case has huge implications for Newcastle Council."Singer Roberto, drummer John Martindale and guitarist Ross Underwood have been together since last year and say they have a new indie sound.They have already gigged in Italy, and at the trendy Hope and Anchor, in Camden, London, and are planning a UK tour in July.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Parking still not fine in Camden ... when will the truth come out?

We expect more whistleblowing and revelations soon. Will be interesting to know how 'aware' the council has been with regard to the unlawful restrictions it has been enforcing whilst embarking on the programme of corrections.

Hats off to Richard Osley at the Camden New Journal for the story below ...

Six months on the meter, and the man brought in to make parking fairer for motorists has gone‘Errors of judgement’ claim as parking department’s star signing exits the Town Hall

THE Town Hall last night (Wednesday) claimed a parking chief appointed to make Camden’s flagging parking system fairer had made “errors of judgement”.

In an unexpected move, John Meyer left the council service in the final working week before Christmas – just two months after a New Journal investigation into the council’s much-maligned warden service.Mr Meyer had previously been expected to keep the post of interim parking manager until the summer at least.But his contract has not been renewed and he cleared his desk on the Friday before the festive break.

The Town Hall said there had been actions “not compatible with the public profile of the post”.

Officials confirmed that Borough Solicitor Andrew Maughan was last month asked to investigate anonymous allegations that Mr Meyer had awarded himself a permit allowing him to park on yellow lines and in residents’ bays across Camden – although it did not lead to any disciplinary action.

A spokeswoman said: “We investigated the allegation. It identified some minor issues but the investigation is closed and no disciplinary action was taken.”As a matter of course, Camden investigates all complaints against staff. It was pointed out yesterday how accusations are often made unfairly against officials, particularly those in high office. The council spokeswoman added that directors believed Mr Meyer had contributed to improvements.

Last night, Mr Meyer, 37, declined to comment, beyond confirming that a six-month contract had expired on December 19 and that he was now working on a fresh challenge elsewhere. He is understood to have felt he performed well and got on well with senior colleagues during a drive to reorganise the department, taking backbiting among some members of the team in his stride.But the sudden decision to part company has left the parking department without a head just as it enters its most crucial period for four years and with critical decisions over who should run the borough’s warden service in the future to be resolved.

Camden is planning to offer its biggest-ever deal to private contractors at the start of next year and is preparing the ground before going out to tender on the lucrative opportunity. The winning bidder could take on all of Camden’s parking enforcement operations for eight years. At the same time, the Town Hall is struggling to understand why cash raised from parking tickets is down by £4million, with bosses ordering an internal investigation and a search for “quick wins” to improve performance. A council spokeswoman said yesterday: “At the end of Mr Meyer’s contract, the position was jointly reviewed with him and it was decided not to renew the contract. The decision has absolutely nothing to do with contracts or parking tickets.” She added: “During his time with Camden, John has played an important role in the council’s review of the service to make parking more transparent and fair. There were, however, some errors of judgement on his part that we believe were not compatible with the head of service role or the public profile of the post. No further action is necessary.”

Mr Meyer has forged a reputation as a top operator in the specialised world of parking enforcement and has advised other councils and large parking companies on their operations. But, as the New Journal revealed in an investigation in October, his appointment in Camden was the source of staff unrest from almost his first day. A group of staff took the unusual step of writing to their superiors – albeit anonymously – to advise caution. While some of his new colleagues at Camden raised the possibility of a conflict of interest over Mr Meyer’s private company HHCT Limited, which repairs hand-held computers used by wardens, and his brother Simon’s post at one of Camden’s contractors, council chiefs stood by their man.In a briefing organised in response to the New Journal investigations, environment department director Rachel Stopard insisted there would be no conflict in terms of his private interests and that he had given up a position he had held in the Conservative party. And in a private memo, Robert Scourfield, her deputy, confidently announced Mr Meyer’s appointment to staff, introducing him as a star signing and suggesting he would be in post until June 2009.

Officials at the Town Hall stressed last night that the “errors of judgement” did not relate to Mr Meyer’s business interests. Senior officers told last year how they need to make the parking service “fit for purpose”, although initial moves to hike builders’ permits by 267 percent have not engendered much confidence among motorists. Unresolved internal investigations into two suspended, well-liked managers have, meanwhile, further angered staff. The department was already unsettled by the departure of Rudy Bright, the last permanent parking manager, who left last year with a redundancy package soon after he had been lampooned by protesters in a You-Tube video condemned by the council.

Camden’s Labour group leader Councillor Anna Stewart said: “This a blow to the Camden Parking Service, which is in a demoralised and volatile state. There is a massive financial shortfall looming this year and staff will be under pressure to bring in ever higher charges for residents. Parking must be fair and effective for local people.”A council spokeswoman said: “The process of recruiting a new permanent head of parking services is under way, and short-term arrangements have been made to cover the post temporarily.”

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