Is it legal? Sheffield Council challenged over bus lane fines

Sheffield: Bus lane camera.
Sheffield: Bus lane camera.
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SHEFFIELD Council might have to refund fines paid by hundreds of drivers caught using a bus lane - because the restrictions could have expired 11 years ago.

The council is being challenged over the legality of Queens Road bus lane, on the edge of the city centre, by 50-year-old motorist Paul Heathcote, of Millhouses.

He received a penalty charge notice for using the lane to undertake queueing traffic.

His appeal against the fine to a Traffic Penalty Tribunal centres on whether paperwork for the legal order to create bus lanes at Queens Road and seven other locations was completed correctly in December 1998.

Mr Heathcote claims officials accidentally used the wrong piece of law, meaning the bus lanes were temporary rather than permanent and expired after 18 months in mid-2000.

The same order covers bus lanes on Broad Street, Brook Hill, Chatham Street, Duke Street, Harvest Lane, Mowbray Street and Western Bank.

None of the seven other locations are subject to camera enforcement.

If Mr Heathcote wins his case, it would be the third successful challenge over Sheffield bus lane restrictions, after motorists won cases against Hillsborough Corner bus and tram gate and Wicker bus gate restrictions.

An adjudicator said warning signs and markings at the locations were not good enough and improvements have since been made.

Mr Heathcote said: “According to the Traffic Regulation Order for the bus lane, which is a legal document, it was made under Section Nine of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

“This is an order for an ‘Experimental Traffic Scheme’ which can last no longer than 18 months meaning the order for Queens Road, made by Sheffield Council in December 1998, expired in June 2000 along with the council’s power to enforce it.”

Camera enforcement of Queens Road bus lane and one nearby on Granville Road only started in January.

So far, hundreds of drivers have been fined at the two locations, resulting in a 35 per cent increase in the council’s bus lane fine income compared with last year.

Between January and December 2010, the council received £601,227 in fines - an average of £50,102 per month, for enforcement of the Wicker, Bridge Street and Hillsborough Corner bus gates, plus Glossop Road bus gate, where enforcement was started in June 2010.

The total fines collected in 2011 up to the end of July stood at £478,156 - £68,308 per month on average and 36 per cent higher than last year, boosted by cameras covering the extra two locations.

Sheffield Council said it would decide whether all motorists caught at Queen’s Road should be repaid their fines after the adjudicator has made a ruling in Mr Heathcote’s case.

Simon Green, Sheffield Council executive director, said: “This seems to be a simple clerical error which does not affect the legality of the bus lane at Queens Road. That being said, we are taking this very seriously.

“Any error would appear to be an historical one going back over 10 years, we have always sought to act in accordance with the law and of course we are investigating this.”