THE controversial closure of a city centre bridge in the region’s tourism capital will come to an end this weekend.
Amid growing public pressure the ruling Labour group in York has decided to pull the plug on their controversial experiment banning traffic from Lendal Bridge.
The sudden move follows a dramatic week of revelations about the legality of the fines that City of York Council has imposed on motorists who have flouted the ban.
But while the row about that aspect of the closure is expected to rumble on, the traffic ban itself will come to an end on Saturday following a Labour group vote last night.
Council leader James Alexander said the principle of the Lendal Bridge trial had been correct, the authority had gathered "valuable information" about traffic flows, bus reliability had improved and passenger numbers had increased.
He added: "It is, however, clear the trial has been polarising and we need greater consensus among residents and businesses over measures required to tackle congestion in our city.”
He said a cross-party commission would now be formed to examine data from the closure trial and “come up with more consensual suggestions” for tackling congestion.
The local cabinet member for transport, Dave Merrett, said: "The decision to reopen the restriction in light of the public feedback shows why we were right to undertake a trial rather than seeking to move straight to permanent implementation."
Both councillors have faced calls for their resignation since the publication last week of traffic adjudicator Stephen Knapps’ judgement that penalty charges should not have been issued to those who broke the 10.30am to 5pm ban.
However the council has since taken its own independent legal advice – and insists all its actions have been lawful.
Conservative leader Coun Chris Steward said: "It is better late than never that Labour has finally ended this terrible closure - sadly, it seems it was the threat of Labour councillors losing their seats and discontent in the Labour group, as well as the pressure of a public full council meeting that we called for, which did it, rather than the problems of the closure itself.
"There is now much to resolve on fines to date and the damage the trial has done to York's reputation.”
Leading traffic lawyer Nick Freeman – known as Mr Loophole – claimed that up to 80 per cent of those who were fined were tourists and added: “City of York Council must now take out public notices in all major newspapers around the country, advising people that they can claim back the money they paid for their fine.”