Richmond Council Leader, Cllr Nicholas True, today apologised to motorists for issuing over 20,000 PCNs for parking-related offences from camera cars that were not properly certified. The charges total over £1 million.

The PCNs were issued between June 2009 and April 2011. The vast majority therefore fall outside the usual 28 day appeal period. Legal advice to the Council is that there is no need to repay parking charges outside the appeal period. However, as motorists had no way of knowing the charges were incorrectly levied, the Council, in accordance with its Fair Parking policies, is allowing a special 3-month appeal period from this month to enable motorists to request a refund. Any appeals made will automatically be allowed. This recommendation is being made to the July Cabinet.

Cllr True said:

“It may be argued that many of the actions of the drivers concerned were contraventions. Had the cameras been properly certified most would have been. But they were not. I am grateful to the citizens who pointed out this error and regret that earlier action was not taken to address their warnings. Management action has been taken to ensure this will not recur. A public authority has a duty to act correctly and, when faults are pointed out, to address them. We failed that vital standard.

“It is up to the drivers concerned if they wish to reclaim the money. Some will exercise their right. Some may not hear of the extended appeal period as legal advice is that it is ultra-vires to send the money back without an appeal. We will be launching an extensive advertising campaign to contact motorists. Others may feel that their actions would have justified a parking charge in normal circumstances.

“To accommodate all these cases the Council will set up a special fund to cover the costs of full reimbursement. Any money not reclaimed after three months will be dedicated to the advancement of Fair Parking and Better High Street policies, including road and pavement repairs, new bays for 30-minute free parking, removal of unwanted yellow lines and facilities for cyclists. I hope that the motorist and other local people will see that as the right thing to do in the circumstances. All those involved, including the Council, now have the opportunity to work together for these improvements.”

This proposed action follows an investigation of the certification paperwork for all of the camera cars that have been operated by the Council since around June 2009. Detailed certification is a requirement of the Department for Transport and the proposed payback follows the receipt of legal advice about the extent of the Council’s powers in this respect.

The two current CCTV cars are now correctly licensed, but their use is currently suspended. The Council has ordered a full review of every facet of the Parking Services operation. Only after that will the future of these two cars be decided, including whether they may have a use in areas other than parking.

Cllr Chris Harrison, Cabinet Member for Highways and Street Scene, said:

“Officers have now been through the certification documents for the CCTV vehicles with a fine tooth coomb. The original two cars were not correctly licensed in the period between June 09 and December 2010. The same applied to the pair of new cars operated between February and April 2011.

“We normally have a standard 28 day appeal deadline for all Penalty Charge Notices. However, subject to Cabinet approval in July, the legal advice we have received is that it is within our power to extend this period, thus allowing anyone who received a parking charge to apply for a refund. We therefore intend to allow motorists 3 months to make a claim from when this decision is taken. This will be up until late October.

“Regrettably it won’t be a quick process due to the high number of requests that we will no doubt receive – however, all who properly apply and are eligible will be refunded. I would also like to stress that our policy will be that any money unclaimed at the end of the appeal process will be reinvested into improving parking, highways and pavements in the borough.

“I apologise that this has happened. I have instructed that a full review of our Parking Services is carried out by people external to the Council so that we can learn lessons and make improvements for the future. This will include the operation of all cameras and the enforcement service. We do need to penalise contraventions as part of a balanced policy. But I invite members of the public to let us know if they believe any aspect of the Council service is not operating legally. Nobody is above the law.

“Our review will also seek that throughout the parking service we strike the right balance between parking charges and dealing with people fairly. Parking services are services for the public, not against the public. They are not there to entrap the public or raise the maximum amount of money possible, still less to cane people for their lifestyle choices. They are needed to ensure that high streets are viable and neighbourhoods with large numbers of cars are liveable in.

“That we are a “fair parking” borough is I hope witnessed by the fact that we are prepared to pay back charges for these camera car problems when in most cases the letter of the law could theoretically allow us to resist doing so. I want this review to ensure that this “fair parking focus” is clear through all our parking processes and how they are implemented."

Further information regarding the appeal process will follow after the July Cabinet meeting.

— from a Richmond Council press release – 5 July 2011