Many councils are blissfully unaware of a hidden but substantial risk of significant financial and reputational damage, which often only comes to light when a hard-done-by motorist delves into the detail of a traffic regulation order and successfully challenges their fine. Staple fare for the Daily Mail and other tabloids, which gleefully report that the local authority concerned will now be forced to pay back thousands of pounds of illegal fines. Meanwhile, the council faces a race against time to ensure that errors are corrected and traffic movement and/or parking activities can be legally regulated, and enforced.
Council forced to refund hundred of thousands of pounds in parking fine and suspend all on-street meter after admitting every ticket handed out since 2008 has been illegal
In many councils, traffic orders have traditionally been the poor cousin when it comes to local authority attention and process. Across the country many authorities will be holding traffic orders of considerable antiquity, in some cases even using imperial measurements. With ever increasing pressure on council budgets and central government interest in the enforcement of parking and waiting traffic orders, it is ever more important that council get their house in order. Without correct traffic orders, the signs and lines councils place on the road cannot be legally enforced.
Ensuring that traffic orders are correct is a detailed task even when dealing with a virgin scheme which is unsullied by older orders. Where there are existing traffic orders in place that require amendments, work to apply the correct restrictions quickly becomes much more complicated, as the practitioner will need to change historic documents to support scheme implementation and in some cases will need to adjust many historic documents. Ensuring that each traffic order is amended to suit larger schemes requires a high level of skill and mistakes can easily be made. Often these mistakes go undetected and only come to light when a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) has to be abandoned.
There are three important pieces of legislation concerning traffic orders:
- the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 sets out the reasons for introducing traffic orders,
- the Traffic management Act 2004 covers enforcement, and,
- the Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996 describes the procedures needed to propose and introduce new traffic orders and amendments to existing ones.
The failure to comply with these regulations can place a council in jeopardy of a legal challenge that would invalidate a traffic order, pose a significant reputational and financial risk, and create a significant amount of process orientated work.
There is however no definitive template for a council to use for their traffic orders and the Department for Transport has no desire to create one. As a consequence no two councils do things the same way. Some councils have different orders for each restriction, some have all restrictions contained in one large order and others go for a halfway approach in which the areas concerned are broken up into different zones. On top of this there are different styles and ways in which councils will describe and classify their restriction.
Many councils throughout the country are now representing their traffic orders using maps. This has many benefits, and if done properly, can represent a step change in the quality and accuracy of a council’s traffic order data. By using map-based methods the interaction between different orders can more easily be appreciated and a much better fit achieved with the lines and signs being enforced out on the roads.
The scrutiny and pressures applied from central government for justification of parking enforcement is not likely to let up in the near future and it looks like this will get more intense. It is therefore paramount that what a council does concerning the preparation, creation and recording of their traffic orders is as correct as possible and transparent, with details available to the wider public.
Richard Firth, Independent Parking Consultant
Join Richard at our upcoming Traffic Orders – Principles and Good Practice course on 29 September. Click for further details.