Friday, 13 March 2015

Council loses £1m in fines after 'forgetting' to turn on bus lane camera


Council loses £1m in fines after 'forgetting' to turn on bus lane camera

Essex County Council admits it never activated a bus lane camera installed five years ago and no drivers have been fined

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It is the second time in the past year that the council has blundered with its bus lane cameras Photo: Peter Payne

Highways bosses have been accused of incompetence after they missed out more than £1 million of fines after "forgetting" to turn on a bus lane camera installed five years ago.

Motorists in Colchester, Essex, have spent years dodging £60 fixed penalty notices for illegally using the bus lane which was introduced as part of road improvements.

Rumours spread the camera was not active when hundreds more drivers used the road as a shortcut to avoid long diversions during roadworks last year.

Essex County Council - which is responsible for the bus lane has now admitted that the camera - installed in 2010 - has never been activated and no drivers have been fined.

The information came to light following a Freedom of Information request for details of the number of fines issued by the camera.

The mistake could have cost the authority more than £1 million, based on estimated figures of just 10 motorists per day being fined £60 each using the lane to the north of the town.

It is the second time in the past year that the council has blundered with its bus lane cameras.

Last year bosses agreed to pay back more than £1 million of fines after they admitted signage for new bus lanes in the centre of the historic town had been unclear.

About 30,000 drivers were reimbursed following angry complaints.

One driver said: "The whole episode looks like incompetence to me.

"I had heard the camera had not been activated so I decided to take a chance on going down the bus lane.

"That was about two months ago so I am pretty sure I won't be getting a ticket now.

"I know it's a bit cheeky but it saved me a diversion of about four miles.

"There were a lot of drivers doing it - it does surprise me that the camera is not working though as more and more people will use the bus lane when they find out.

"It looks like they have forgot about turning this camera."

Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell has labelled it a "debacle" and called on highways matters to be returned to the local council.

He said: "This is just the latest example of Essex County Council highways authority incompetence.

"They have turned off our street lights, the town is full of potholes and we have had to endure this debacle on town centre traffic management.

"This latest failure proves the need to return highways and street matters to Colchester Borough Council."

When it first received the FOI request, Essex County Council it denied it was responsible for the camera in question and suggested it was Essex Police's.

However, it later admitted the camera does belong to it and confirmed it has never issued a penalty charge notice.

Eddie Johnson, Essex County Council's cabinet member for highway maintenance, said: "The camera on Nayland Road was installed in 2010 and we can confirm there are plans for its activation but as yet no set date.

"These cameras are installed to act as a deterrent to motorists against using the bus lane.

"The camera, despite not being activated, has served this purpose. They are most definitely not installed to generate income."

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