Adele Bradley
By Adele Bradley

Senior Staff Writer

17 August 2020

| | 3 min read


Council sets out next steps following ‘flawed’ bus lane review

A review into bus lane signage that took over three years to complete contains a number of potential legal errors and could place an unreasonably high burden on Newcastle City Council.

Image of John Dobson Street
, the council is offering a refund to anyone who has paid a penalty charge notice for the northbound bus lane on John Dobson Street

The city council is today setting out its next steps in response to last month’s long-awaited decision by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal’s chief adjudicator in relation to the signage for the northbound bus lane on John Dobson Street.

The council has confirmed that it will not seek a judicial review as this would be both a lengthy and expensive process, which would not be in the public interest.

However, in considering the implications of the chief adjudicator’s report, the council requested a legal opinion and this concluded that the decision contains a number of legal flaws.

The opinion states that, despite agreeing that the bus lane signage complied with regulations, and therefore met the legal test, both the chief adjudicator and the original adjudicator had gone on to apply an additional overarching test that went above and beyond the scope of the legal requirements.

Furthermore, the decision placed an unreasonably high burden on the city council by suggesting that there should have been additional signage and by failing to give strong reasons as to why the existing signage was considered to be inadequate, given that it did meet the legal test.

The legal opinion said the report also failed to take an objective and overall approach to considering compliance and failed to acknowledge the inconsistencies with previous adjudications, including by the same original adjudicator, which had found that the signage was adequate.

Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality, said: "After waiting three long years for the Chief Adjudicator to review her findings, I am bitterly disappointed that the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has failed to provide any real substance or meaningful learnings in their report.

“Our legal team have scrutinised it closely, and there are so many gaping holes in this report, that we are minded to seek a judicial review and challenge it in court.

“However, as this could take years and at considerable expense to the public purse, I believe it is not in the public interest to take this course of action.”

The city council will review the northbound bus lane signage to look at what changes can be made before any enforcement resumes.

In the meantime, drivers who have paid a penalty charge notice for this specific bus lane are being offered a refund.

Cllr Ainsley said: “There is no legal obligation for us to offer refunds as we have consistently upheld DfT requirements, to the letter.

“However, as a gesture of goodwill, the council is offering a refund to anyone who has paid a penalty charge notice for the northbound bus lane on John Dobson Street since February 2016. Refunds will not be offered for the southbound lane, which will continue to be enforced as it has been throughout.

“We have always stated that the cameras are not there to generate income but to help buses run on time in the city centre and to their destinations in our neighbourhoods and the wider region.”

To request a refund the registered keeper of the vehicle charged must provide their details, including their name, address and the vehicle registration number.

The city council will aim to process requests and approve refunds to those eligible within 30 days.

The form to request a refund will be available from tomorrow from 9am (Tues 18 Aug) and people are encouraged to make their applications before Friday 9 October – which allows eight weeks for people to apply.

Cllr Ainsley added: “We will install additional signage on John Dobson Street, over and beyond DfT guidelines, and start enforcement again, after a suitable warning period. We also intend to start enforcement on other key routes for buses once we are satisfied they are the right schemes and the signage has been installed.

“In the meantime we will continue to work with the Local Government Association and other core cities to lobby the TPT and the DfT to get together and sort this nonsense once and for all, which is causing confusion for local authorities, bus companies and motorists across the country.

“Bus lanes play an important part in our city’s future. Our long-held ambitions are for an efficient public transport system that benefits everyone, and a clean and green city, that is not choked by cars and pollution; and we will not allow this inadequate review to detract us from this any longer.”

A full copy of the legal opinion regarding the chief adjudicator’s decision is  here and a technical review of the signage is here