Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ex-wardens take us on a tour to reveal sites of 'unlawful' ticketing

The recent High Court decision in Moss v KPMG confirms that signs must be as prescribed. There is a great deal more to come out of the South West and the lawyers are lining up and sharpening their pencils!
Express and Echo
By Exclusive Tom Bevan
Two former traffic wardens have revealed areas of the city where they claim tickets are being issued to motorists illegally.

Drivers are being fined for parking and loading in areas of Exeter where traffic lines and signs were highlighted as unlawful to the council three years ago, the Echo can reveal.

An investigation has uncovered several parts of the city where civil enforcement officers have been told to issue tickets despite long-standing concerns about the legality of the orders.

Jo Pengilley and Sylvia Watts, who had several years as wardens and then civil enforcement officers, have now turned whistleblowers, and accompanied the Echo on a tour of the city centre, highlighting several areas of concern.

The pair, who resigned from their posts last year, said they were told to issue tickets in these areas when they worked as traffic wardens for the police as the signs were incorrect or ambiguous.

But they say they were givent the opposite instruction when control of parking enforcement was transferred to Exeter City Council in May 2008. Devon County Council has had overall responsiblity for the road signs and lines throughout.

In what has been dubbed "the great parking scandal" they said they were told to issue tickets which would be cancelled only if the motorist logged a complaint.

As revealed in the Echo, the pair and former colleague Tony Lewis are seeking damages for unfair constructive dismissal following an employment tribunal.

A decision in the case is expected soon.

The tribunal heard that around 3,000 tickets have been cancelled by the city council since May 2008 - around ten per cent of the total issued.

Speaking exclusively to the Echo, they claimed problems with non-compliant signs and lines in the part of the city centre included concerns is:

High Street

Cathedral Yard

Southernhay West

Bailey Street

Northernhay Gate

But they stress that those examples are only indicative, and the problem is widespread across the whole city.

Conservative city councillor and former police officer Percy Prowse, who ha campaigned for several years on the issue, yesterday labelled the situation "disgusting and potentially criminal" and accused the city council of "burying its head in the sand."

A chief area of concern is the High Street, where signs on the entrance conflict with other signs on the road itself on whether loading is allowed to take place there.

In an e-mail seen by the Echo, dated May last year, Steve Carnell, Exeter's parking services manager, wrote to Gary Powell at Devon County Council asking for advice on these signs.

He wrote: "CEOs [civil enforcement officers] report that the restriction signage isn't clear as it is a variable message sign and only displays the full details once the loading restrictions come into effect at 10am. Anyone driving past it before this time isn't aware what time the restriction commences.

"Do you wish to suspend enforcement where signage could be considered inappropriate or unclear?"

In reply Mr Powell said: "I am reluctant to suspend enforcement in the High Street. I am not sure they are illegal and until they are successfully challenged I think we should continue to enforce."

There was a similar situation in Cathedral Green, where the entrance and the roadside signs regarding loading and access again contradict each other.

In other areas, such as Southernhay West, some double yellow lines were also so poorly maintained and broken that Miss Pengilley said there was no way they would issue tickets as traffic wardens. But she said that as soon as the council took control they were told to book vehicles in any case.

They also showed the Echo one spot where they booked vehicles for parking on what was pricate land, at the back of Waterstone's.

Miss Pengilley said that whether or not their claim for constructive dismissal was successful, they felt justified in highlighting the issue of illegal signs and lines.

"What we have shown you is just in the city centre," she said.

"If it is wrong here it is wrong outside. For us this has never been about getting money,

"It was about proving the council wrong and whether we lose our tribunal or not, I think we have done that. The public now know what was going on, and that had been our objective from the start.

"We just wanted to be fair to the motorists. When we were traffic wardens we would not issue tickets as the signs are so clearly wrong and unlawful. But as soon as we came under control of the council everything changed.

"We were told to forget everything we had done over the years and issue tickets in areas we would not have dreamt of doing previously."

Cllr Prowse said: "Both the county and the city council have really messed up on the issue of civil parking enforcement. The interesting one is the High Street, which I first raised with the council three years ago.

"The council is fully aware of the problem but has chosen to bury its head in the sand.

"It has continued to issue tickets unlawfully, and it must border on the verge of a criminal matter - I am tempted to report it to the police. The county council has never answered any of my letters. There are so many problems."

Cllr Prowse uncovered another error by Devon County Council after the handover in 2008 that has led to thousands of pounds being paid back to city drivers.

Penalty tickets were issued to drivers in three large parking zones in the city before the council discovered that the areas weren't covered by the relevant traffic order.

The mix-up, first highlighted by the Echo, meant the county council had to pay back the cost of fiens dished out to drivers in Pennsylvania, Duryard and the Regent's Park residents' parking zones between May 2008 and February last year.

Cllr Prowse said this was just part of a catalogue of errors he had uncovered since the handover.

He said: " I had to ask them what a triple yellow line means recently. It means nothing.

"It would be great if the county council would make a full and frank admission that it has not got things right. It is disgusting that things have been allowed to get to this stage and we are no further forward in resolving it. It is an embarrassment to the council."

A spokesman for the city council, said it carried out the enforcement of on-street parking in Exeter on behalf of Devon County Council.

He said: " Ever since we took on the role of civil parking enforcement on May 2008 we have consistently referred issues about on-street parking restrictions to Devon County Council for policy directions as to whether they are enforceable.

"This decision rests with them as a highway authority, and we follow the direction they give to us."

A county council spokesman said: "District councils are instructed to enforce where the intent of the signs and lines clearly communicate the relevant restrictions.

"Civil Enforcement Officers will make the appropriate observations before deciding whether a contravention of the restriction is being made.

"Minor deviations in markings from the requirements of the regulationswill not automatically invalidate a Penalty Charge Notice.

"If anyone believes they have been issued a Penalty Charge Notice incorrectly, they should appeal as directed on the notice and their appeal will be thoroughly considered."

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