Lancashire County Council raked in a staggering £3m in motoring fines last year - massively boosted by the controversial bus lane cameras on Preston’s Fishergate.
That’s a 1,150% rise in fees collected by the county council from motorists in the past year.
New figures show that the highway authority’s income from penalty notices went up nearly 12-fold in 2018 compared to the previous year.
The total amount of income rose from £261,034 in 2017 to £3,006.964 last year, it was revealed by Confused.com.
The county council says around half of the income is from the bus lane, and half from general parking fines.
It is thought that part of the reason for the massive rise is that the Fishergate cameras were switched off for part of 2017.
Carpet business director Craig Halsall told the Post only days ago that part of the reason he had quit the city centre was the bad feeling caused by the bus lane cameras.
He accused the authorities of turning the city into an unwelcoming “no go area”.
When told of the fines income, Mr Halsall said today: “It’s shocking. It’s a disgrace.
“The council got it wrong, they have created the confusion and now they are making money from it.”
The council had to refund thousands of motorists in 2017 after it was ruled that the warning signage was not adequate.
Independent adjudicator Edward Solomons found that the bus lane itself complied with the regulations, but allowed five appeals made on the basis of “inadequate” signing on Butler Street, and suggested changes to the location and lighting of some of the signing.
Drivers still claim the bus lane signage is unclear - with many visitors saying they were totally unaware they were committing an offence of simply following their vehicle’s satnav.
Meanwhile in Blackpool, Chorley and Wigan the income from Penalty Charge Notices has remained largely the same, according to Confused.com.
In Blackpool, income actually fell from £847,701 to £764,737.
The Post revealed in March that 30,738 tickets had been issued in the past 12 months to vehicles illegally using the 50-metre strip on Fishergate. It was reckoned this short stretch of Preston’s premier shopping street has earned the county council in excess of £2m - possibly much more - since the cameras were first switched on back in 2016.
Coun Keith Iddon, cabinet member for highways and transport, said at the time: “I just don’t understand it.
“I’m really disappointed because we’ve done everything we possibly can to warn people, yet they’re still driving down there in large numbers.”
Drivers are issued with Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) through the post for £60 - reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com said: “The fact that almost three quarters (74 per cent) of PCN appeals were successful last year suggests that some fines are being issued unfairly.
“Challenging an unfair fine can be both complicated and daunting. The appeal process is confusing and needs to be made clearer.
“With councils raking in over £326m in PCNs, it’s only right that some of this fine money is invested to help make road signs clearer to eliminate the number of fines being distributed unfairly.”
Highways chiefs are adamant that any revenue received from fines is ploughed back into Lancashire.
And they said it has never been their intention to “make a penny” from the controversial bus lane.
Daniel Herbert, highway network manager for Lancashire County Council, explained how the £3m figure was arrived at.
He said: “These figures are for bus lane revenue and parking combined.
“Any money we collect goes initially towards the cost of running these services.
“Once this has been covered, we spend the money on the highways network.
“For example we made Lune Street two-way to benefit people when they come into the city centre.
“Parking restrictions help to remove obstructions or to free up spaces in popular area by making them time-limited.
“Our bus lanes give priority for public transport.
“By enforcing them, we can help to ensure that people are following the rules and not using the bus lanes when they shouldn’t.
“We’ve been clear from the start that we don’t want to make a penny from the bus lanes.
“We know from Fishergate that signage alone didn’t work and that the cameras have been necessary to stop people misusing the bus lanes.”
1 in 4 ‘issued unfairly’
Councils across the UK are pocketing millions from drivers in Penalty Charge Notices (PCN), new data reveals – but one in four drivers think most fines are issued unfairly.
The total income made from fines reached more than £326m in 2018 from nine million PCNs, according to new Freedom of Information data obtained by Confused.com. This includes fines for offences such as parking, misusing a bus lane or box junction, or turning right illegally.
But new research finds that not all drivers think fines are issued fairly.
And there is evidence of this in the fact that most appeals were successful.
According to the research, almost half (48 per cent) of UK drivers have received a PCN. Of these, two in five (40 per cent) argued their case, with most (74 per cent) resulting in paying a reduced fine, or nothing at all. This may go to show that not all fines are issued fairly, and drivers are being asked to pay fines they may not be accountable for.
Drivers gave several reasons for refuting their PCN, with most (29 per cent) blaming unclear or confusing signage for the mishap.
But two in three (60 per cent) drivers who received a PCN didn’t challenge the fine, with one in eight (13 per cent) of these put off by confusing information online about how to appeal.
A further one in six (17 per cent) also claim they didn’t know how to appeal. And this is echoed in the fact that one in five (17 per cent) of those who did challenge their fine found the process difficult, or confusing (8%).
Confused.com says this goes to show that these processes need to be made clearer and easier for drivers who could potentially be forking out fines they know they don’t need to pay. In fact, more than half (52%) claim if they had more clarity about how to appeal a PCN, they’d have challenged an unfair fine.
Confused.com has created a checklist which drivers could use to form the basis of their appeal.
The checklist covers parking and moving traffic offences, which could potentially save drivers millions of pounds collectively, if their appeal is successful.
According to the data, Westminster City Council received more than £16.5m from more than 313,000 PCNs in 2018.
This averages out at £53 per fine.
Councils in London pocketed the highest collective total, making more than £175m from nearly four million PCNs.
‘A money making racket’
Only a few days ago, the Post reported how businessman Craig Halsall was quitting Preston city centre, partly because of the growing anger towards the “unfair” fines.
Mr Halsall ran PC Carpets in Lune Street, Preston, but moved back to the firm’s Lostock Hall site saying he had been disillusioned by traffic flow, the disruption caused by roadworks and the bus lane fines.
It brought a massive response on Facebook:
Norman Burke said: “The bus lane is a money making racket just like the one in Broughton,”
Mark Cookson said: “I don’t go to Preston that much but what I have noticed a great deal is young drivers who are not savvy with all the parking restrictions and no go areas are being financially raped.”
Nicola Telford said: “Preston town centre is a joke. It’s not on the uprise like claimed by the council.. its becoming a ghost town.. parking is a joke, road layout a joke, shops or lack of.”
Patricia Brown said: “Take it back quite a few years, who puts a ring road through the centre of a town/city? Also when is the money taken from fining people going to be put back into repairing our awful roads?”
Thomas Wignall said: “Bus lane was a money making scheme, no other reason for it. Preston is much worse than it was even just a few years ago, just no soul at all.”
Don Snow said: “If you can’t work out how to drive into town without getting fined, stop whining and catch the bus/train instead.”
‘I won’t be going into Preston ever again’
One motorist who has been on the receiving end of a PCN in the Fishergate bus lane is businessman John Robinson from Formby.
He said he had received a notice on May 21 relating to an alleged offence on February 27.
He was disputing the fine.
Mr Robinson said: “Why on earth has it taken so long? I thought they had to serve the notice within 28 days.
“It’s the first notification I’ve had. It’s a follow-up letter. I’ve never seen the first one.”
“After all this time I think they should drop it.”
Mr Robinson added: “I don’t think the signage is clear enough. I certainly won’t be going into Preston ever again.”
A Lancashire County Council spokesman said : “It’s our view that parking services adhered to all of the correct timescales and this PCN was issued in a timely manner.”