York council faces huge bill for repaying Lendal Bridge fines

August 2013: Traffic still crossing  Lendal Bridge in York  after it was closed the previous day
August 2013: Traffic still crossing Lendal Bridge in York after it was closed the previous day
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The administrative costs of repaying motorists’ fines following one of the most embarrassing episodes of a local authority’s recent history could hit up to £150,000.

York Council has moved a step closer to meeting calls to automatically repay all of the thousands of motorists fined for crossing Lendal Bridge during its trial closure to private vehicles, after councillors passed a motion stating council believes that the Labour Cabinet must repay all the Lendal Bridge fines.

August 2013: Traffic still crossing  Lendal Bridge in York  after it was closed the previous day

August 2013: Traffic still crossing Lendal Bridge in York after it was closed the previous day

But is has also emerged that pro-actively contacting every person who had been issued a fine under the scheme would cost in the region of £100,000 to £150,000.

The closure of the historic bridge in York to most motorists was one of the most contentious policies during the tenure of then council leader James Alexander, who last month announced he was stepping down.

Neil Ferris, assistant director of Transport, Highways and Waste at York Council, said: “Following the decision agreed by Full Council regarding the motion to repay fines in respect of Lendal Bridge, the council will now arrange for a detailed report to be presented to Cabinet in the new year. This will take into account legal advice and include details of administrative costs for processing refunds.

“Taking into consideration these changes, the council is looking to extend the repayment scheme deadline and is currently discussing options on how to take this forward in the new year.”

The administration of processing the repayments would require additional budgetary provision.

At the recent meeting the motion passed was that Council notes: The judgement of the Government Traffic Adjudicator, Stephen Knapp, that City of York Council had “no power” to issue PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices) under its Lendal Bridge trial, and the decision of the Labour Cabinet to only repay PCN fines to those who apply for a refund and to close applications on December 31.

Council resolved to ask Cabinet to extend the December 31 deadline and to instruct officers to put in place a system for automatically repaying all Lendal Bridge fines.

The motion does not mean that York Council will necessarily end up automatically repaying all motorists who were fined.

The council maintains that the controversial scheme was legally sound and it stopped because the trial had ended. The local authority’s cabinet made the decision to open up a refund scheme.

A Government Traffic Adjudicator ruled that the Labour-run council had ‘no power’ to issue the fines.

Lib Dem Group Leader Councillor Keith Aspden, who moved the motion, said: “It is now up to officers to swiftly put in place a system to begin repayments. As we have repeatedly said, the only way to repair the reputational damage the trial did to York is to automatically refund all the motorists fined.”

Figures from April 2014 show the total income generated was approximately £1.3m for Lendal Bridge. Around 47,500 PCNs were issued for the bridge.

*The newly elected leader of York Council, Coun Dafydd Williams has announced his slimmed-down six member Cabinet to serve until next May. Two councillors will step down. Coun Dave Merrett will step down from his cabinet role. The smaller Cabinet necessitates changing the responsibilities within some portfolios.