Richmond Council attempt to put right the wrongs of the past

It took Richmond Council just two years and 37 minutes to do the right thing, and agree to refund Penalty Charge Notices totalling over £1M pounds.

At last nights full Richmond Council meeting, the first in the Councils’ history to be webcast, leader of the Council Lord True outlined the background which led to this ground breaking refund decision:

Lord True  said;

Lord True Leader of Richmond Council

Lord True Leader of Richmond Council

“In 2007 they [Richmond Liberal Party] introduced the use of mobile patrols, camera cars capable of capturing and recording traffic offences. They operated aggressively, no mercy polices at which at times it seemed to residents raising as much money as you could from motorists was fair do’s.”

“The policy was successful or so it seemed to this Council and I say to many Councils in other parts of this Country.  Soon large revenues were flowing into the Council and equally soon the resentment of local residents and motorists against the policy began to rise. Before the last election we consulted officers confidentially with a view to scrapping the spy cars. We were led to conclude after that discussion the revenue involved was too great. So we decided to keep the cars, but to get rid of tinted black windows, to paint them yellow so they could be seen, and changed the rules of operation to cut out some of the worst practises that went on before 2010. We also changed the firm providing our enforcement services.”

“Unfortunately madam Mayor what neither we knew at the time or the preceding Council members knew was that as a result of an error made by a consultant retained by the Council neither of the original spy cars had been properly registered and therefore penalties relying on evidence from these cars was unsafe. Nor Madam Mayor did members know that when we changed the cars and changed the operators an error was made in the Council offices, as such that the new cars were not registered correctly either. That was a serious error made within the Council and there are reasons which I cannot disclose why that should have been noticed at the time. But Madam Mayor the faults in administration were pointed out by the victim of an improperly issued penalty notice Mr Nigel Wise whose role in this affair I have praised.

Mr Nigel Wise

Mr Nigel Wise

“Actually it’s good old British doggedness refusing to go away uncovered this issue. At that point when he raised it the sensible thing would be to suspend the operation of these cars but it was not done. Mr Wise repeatedly wrote to point out the mistakes and those warnings were regrettably ignored, instead penalty notices continued to be issued and Mr Wise was taken to the highest tribunal and Mr Wise was found, just as he had predicted, that the Council had acted without authority. Now that I think was an abuse of power and so was the continuing use of the cars against this background. Eventually Mr Wise wrote to me as leader. I was concerned enough by what he wrote to raise the matter with the Chief Executive. We both agreed that a full investigation should be launched. The investigation discovered facts that I have outlined and others which I cannot disclose. The spy cars were taking off the road and they stay off the road pending a further in depth investigation of our traffic and enforcement polices that is being conducted by Cllr Harrison, and I have asked him to report by November.”

“The investigation found that some 18,500 penalties had been paid improperly. Some had been issued when parking officers should have known better. Appropriate management action was taken as a result. I issued on behalf of this Council, which I repeat a full and unequivocal apology which I’m sure all members would join me today. I invited the Cabinet to consider as to how we might make restitution for the money improperly levied.”

“Cabinets unanimous view reflected in this recommendation today was that given the events outlined the Council, although advised that we could not actually send out money to the motorist involved without it being asked for, one the less had a responsibility to refund as much of the money as we could. No to do so would be to keep money which was not properly ours, some of which in my judgment had been secured not only in error but knowingly and with abuse of power.”

“In July Cabinet decided that given the difficulties and cost of tracing every individual the proportional response might be to advertise that the error had been made and invited those affected to request repayment, which would be made automatically. Since then we’ve heard further representations. There have also been other cases, not directly comparable perhaps but certainly similar. For example in Westminster where the Ombudsman recommended that the Council ought to write to motorists affected by an error. Having reflected further the Cabinet has decided that we can legitimately and proportionally write to affected inviting them to seek repayment. The extra cost will be considerable, perhaps £500,000 perhaps £700,000 I do not hide that from the Council. But Madam Mayor in this era where there is so little trust in public authority and the reputation of the Council as whole is gauged by its past actions the Cabinet supports me today in proposing an amendment to its July recommendations which I duly now move, mainly that we should write to those affected. Their penalties were wrongly issued and the right thing to do is to right that wrong insofar as we reasonably can. No Council should seek to sustain improper conduct and abuse of power. In our view the honourable and proportionate response to the errors made in the past is that we should use all reasonable endeavours to conduct those improperly fined by letter.”

It should be pointed out that where Cllr True makes reference to the Ombudsman recommending to Westminster Council to pro-actively repay money taken in error, it was in fact the local District Auditor that we wrote too. If we had written to the LGO we would still be waiting for a reply. (source post)

Cllr Stephen Knight and fellow Cllr Jennifer Churchill with their new baby

Cllr Stephen Knight and fellow Cllr Jennifer Churchill with their new baby

However, the leader of the opposition Liberal party, Cllr Stephen Knight, did not agree with Cllr True’s proposals stating that is was not a proportional response. Cllr Knight pointed out the Council’s responsibility to the taxpayers of the borough. To jeers and boos Cllr Knight went on to say that his party would be abstaining to vote for the new amendment, and if it were passed his party would also abstain from the earlier Cabinet decision to refund the money taken in error.

Cllr Stephen Knight, first came to our attention when he was quoted in The Times referring to cars “They burn the planet, kill innocent pedestrians and turn mild-mannered people into selfish road-rage monsters.” Tellingly, he added: “Also, I wouldn’t encounter so many jams on my drive to the civic centre.” An attitude which later earnt Richmond Council the reputation as car haters no doubt.

Cllr Harrison pointed out that as far as the residents were concerned it was central policy to listen to residents and respond where possible to what they want. He also made reference to a poll of local residents taken by the Richmond and Twickenham Times, where 89% of respondents wanted the Council to proactively pay the money back.

In the end Richmond Council voted for the amendment to proactively pay the money back with even four of the Liberal party members rebelling by ignoring the advice of Cllr Knight and voting with the Conservatives.

Lord True said “We have cast off the shameful label we had under the party opposite as the Council that hates cars.”

Since taking over from the Liberal’s at the last election Richmond Council has:

Removed the unfair CPZ tax.

Incomprehensible parking tariffs aimed to get motorists paying more than needed at meters have been scrapped

More parking spaces are being designated in high streets in cooperation with traders.

30 minutes free parking is being introduced in high streets and car parks.

8:31am raids by wardens have been stopped.

Spy cars with black tinted windows are off the road.

But Richmond’s legacy runs deep and objections to the Councils accounts are still being lodged with relation to its parking enforcement practices. Richmonds’ head of Parking Terry Powell mysteriously no longer works there. In addition after pressure on The British Parking Association (BPA) by Mr Wise they admitted that Mr Powel was no longer a director.

The No To Mob outside Richmond Council

The No To Mob outside Richmond Council

Nigel Wise member of pressure group No To Mob said “This means that a one time Fellow and Director of The BPA who was also Head of Parking at a London Local Authority has now received his total comeuppance. It just goes to show what can be achieved with dedication and hard work.”

“His department was responsible for several years of unlawful enforcement. Even when this was pointed out to him and belatedly and grudgingly accepted by him he continued his unlawful activities at the self same restrictions. This was after he had given assurances that the restrictions were not being enforced.”

“This occurred before the arrival of the unlawful $camera cars that he deployed on the roads for two years. “

“This information from The BPA means that Mr Powell will never again be employed in Parking Enforcement and be able to “sanctimoniously” dismiss representations form recipients of PCN’s.”

“This episode should also act as a warning shot and salutary lesson to other Enforcement Managers throughout the country”

Mr Wise and the No To Mob continue to scrutinise the activities of Richmond Council and many other Local Authorities using CCTV enforcement for parking and moving traffic offences.


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