No challenge over parking refunds

Pics of blue badges seized to go with court story and snatch of Sarah-Jayne Clarke
Pics of blue badges seized to go with court story and snatch of Sarah-Jayne Clarke

THOUSANDS of pounds in parking fines issued to disabled drivers in Bicester and Banbury will be refunded, it was confirmed on Monday.

Members of Cherwell District Council (CDC) said they would not challenge last week’s Local Government Ombudsman report, which found CDC guilty of maladministration over poor notification of new parking charges brought in last spring.

Some Blue Badge holders were hit with £80 fines after failing to display tickets in car parks owned by CDC after new charges came in on April 4.

The council had been told to repay £11,600 to around 145 drivers, but was still free to lodge an appeal.

Council leader Barry Wood said: “I think that in this country we are fortunate with the arrangements we have for ombudsmen, in particular in respect of local government, because it is right there is a court of appeal where citizens can go if they think councils have been overzealous in their application of policies and activities, or, as it was in our case, insufficiently zealous in the application of what it was doing.”

He said there was a “moral obligation” on councils to take the ombudsman’s advice.

“You can choose to challenge things and go further, but I think you to say to yourself, ‘There’s a real purpose to the ombudsman, and they go to a lot of trouble to investigate things’,” he added.

Councillor Wood said the council thought it had acted in good faith, and believed it had advertised changes properly through newspapers, local radio and public notices.

But he said after two weeks it became apparent more signs were needed, and were duly installed by the council.

“It is in that fortnight that the ombudsman has said, ‘You really should have thought of it earlier’.”

He said the council was now obliged to refund all the tickets issued in that fortnight.

Bicester West representative and leader of the opposition, Councillor Les Sibley, said he was pleased justice has been seen to be done.

Councillor Lawrie Stratford, of the Bicester division, said: “This council has been honest enough to say, ‘We did’t do it well enough, we’ll do better next time.”

Disabled drivers who contacted the Review last year were outraged by the fines.

One man had said he would rather go to prison than pay his fine, and said the only warning of the new charges was a sheet of A4 paper wrapped around a post.

CDC had written to all 7,000 local disabled drivers, but the ombudsman said many notices, “lacked prominence.”