A BridgeToo Far

(Updated 13.4.14)

The post-war Ministry of Transport passed through 9 re-namings, before arriving at the current ‘Department for Transport’ which, in the first decade of the new millennium, drew up a comprehensive set of road signs, found delineated in the ‘Traffic Signs Manual’. It seems as if all that re-naming might have seeped into their functioning. Specifically: those who dreamed up the signage protocols appear to have been quirky in the extreme. And those who put that quirkiness into words and images were well matched with the dreamers. This resulted in preferred signage that, where buses are addressed, presents itself in a pastel shade of blue, inviting buses to feel ‘special’ as they proceed. The harassed, bus-hemmed, motorist is left to respond to the universally arresting word ‘ONLY’ written in prohibitory ‘BLACK ON WHITE (ooh scary) to suppress their mad impulse to be photographed in a bus lane. Countrywide, Councils have been filling their coffer with bus lane accruals. I suggest this indicates an intrinsic deficiency in the signage regime with regard to constraining predatory councils, and to alerting motorists (rather than just entrapping them).

In 2004, the ‘Traffic Management Act’ empowered Councils to configure and install road signage, uninspected, just so long as it is in compliance with the Traffic Signs Manual, which, though detailed and offering many examples, could not hope to cover all situations. Newbury proved a challenge, offering a Cul de Sac with a blind turn into a bus street, at its end.
The Act allows some choice of signage to the Council. Further, under the Penalty Charge Notice system, the Council may enforce penalty payments (in civil court if they chose) and retain the money accrued. This clearly creates a conflict of interest that went either unnoticed, or was deemed of no account to government. Nevertheless, it requires a high level of integrity at Council level if it is not to be used to entrap and rob motorists in true highwayman style. “Aye – there’s the rub.”
West Berkshire Council (WBC) asserts they published notice of the coming regime change, and distributed warning leaflets. I had the NWN delivered every week at that time, but registered no announcement. Nor did I encounter a leaflet unless it was non-specific, such that I binned it unwittingly. They also, rather counter-intuitively to my mind, allowed a ‘period of grace’, of two weeks, after the bridge reopened, before triggering fines. Was the bridge monitored in this period? Did it have the effect of lulling motorists into a return to old habits?

The un-named bridge over the canal, situated at The Wharf.

Newbury is divided E – W by the Kennet and Avon Canal; two bridges relate.
One in the town centre, closed to traffic for the greater part of the day. Another to the East, at the Wharf, restricted to bus taxi and cycle, which replaced the “American Bridge” built in 1941. The ‘improved bridge’, replacing the ‘American Bridge’, was opened in 2005 functioning one-way N – S, to all traffic. This situation prevailed up until 2011, during most of the building of the Parkway retail development, and was then closed to be reopened as a bus/taxi/cycle only carriageway, with a ‘stealth camera’, and penalty charges. Shortly thereafter, thousands of unaware (or cavalier, wealthy?) motorists were logged by the ‘ANPR’ camera, associated with the new regime. The arrival of ‘PCN’ cards through the post, and the madness that followed, hereinafter laid out, then took off. When I, personally, was entrapped, despite more-than-due diligence, and with a vigilant passenger, I made clear to WBC I would not pay. I was ‘absolved’; I construe that this was to avoid any court disclosure of the facts of the matter (below). Such reticence did not deter WBC from declaring, effectively, that motorists who complained were ‘careless and lacking in proper attention to driving’. In what follows, they might rue such a stance.

Location Location Location

Before there was a bridge from the Wharf to the North side of the Canal, old maps show ‘Marsh Road’ running to the West of The Marsh, N to S from (approximately) Park Street down to (approximately) Marsh Lane. I can find no name for the road/track that then continued south, skirting the West corner of the Marsh to join the Canal tow-path, passing Marsh House, standing away to the West. It was this enigmatic stretch that, after the ‘American Bridge’ was installed in 1941, is unequivocally identified, as a Northern continuation of Wharf Road. At time of writing, it looks as if Wharf Road was extended Northward to join Marsh Road (then, or later, re-named Park Way) nominally at the park gates, in the vicinity of Marsh Lane’s Eastern end. Both Ordnance Survey and online maps posted by WBC, confirm this.

The Compulsory Purchase Order, drawn up in association with the Parkway development, though somewhat ambiguous, appears to confirm the roads in this area to be named as above. How strange, then, to find that the WBC-held approval-certificate for the ANPR, ‘stealth camera’ without any justification, has Park Way stretch all the way South, to the Wharf, passing over ‘Park Way Bridge’ (previously unknown by that name) wiping out the Northern stretch of Wharf Road, at a stroke?

But confusion does not end there. Naming the new retail area ‘Parkway’ and siting it along side Park Way was hardly a smart idea. [For many months, one could find signs at top and bottom of the ‘step free access’ (ramp) both directing you to Parkway but in diametrically opposed directions!]
Furthermore, early versions of the PCN composed by WBC, named the bridge ‘Parkway’ Bridge; but WBC when challenged (typically) said that was of no account. The fact that the ANPR is said, by WBC, to be in Park Way while actually sited on the Wharf, notwithstanding. It should be noted that only three road name plates feature: two either side of Park Way where it joins London Road, and one where Wharf Road commences at Bear Lane. Between the two extremities, nothing is named in situ.

Signage and the art of entrapment

Although the bridge re-opened in October 2011, the signs were non-compliant for months. Lighting was a particular problem. WBC’s response was to blame Costain and keep such charges, already accrued, as they saw fit, devoid of any rationale. The purported legality of keeping money ‘because it has been paid’ beggars belief, but this is what WBC has repeatedly claimed they may do. I have asked for proof and received only obfuscation. An AA website obliquely supports the claim, but it has the feel of an urban myth. I tried an enquiry to the ‘Parking and Traffic Appeals Service; they said: “get a lawyer”. It is surreal. To continue: the three ‘early warning signs (2 in London Road and one 100 yards North of the entrapment zone) were all lacking an ONLY plate for months, but WBC excused themselves by saying these signs were not required. (They even managed to, very tardily, add the ONLY plates, improperly placed at first try!)
Under pressure from press and others, WBC added a sprinkling of pathetic, low impact signs, here and there. One was a ‘story board’ in small black print on yellow ground, ‘warning’ drivers (should they read it right through, without accident) that only buses, taxis and cycles may pass over ‘Park Way Bridge’. But such a bridge appears on no map, and is un-signposted anywhere in Newbury. Indeed, assuming they mean the bridge at the Wharf: as already said: it has no name.
Very belatedly, a ‘No Right Turn’ sign has been erected, high and unlit, to the Left, on leaving Camp Hopson’s car park. At night, it is back-lit by three fierce floodlights. Although unlikely to help any motorist (and edge-on i.e. unreadable, to those leaving the East lobe of the car-park) this addition serves to show an option that was cynically turned down by WBC in their configuring. There is a ‘No Left Turn’ version of the sign; both are in attention-grabbing red. They would be permitted at the ‘point of no return’, when approaching the entrapment zone from the North, and if a ‘map-type sign’ (I have a letter from DforT saying such is ‘permitted’) were erected in place of the ‘soft’, unarresting 100 yard sign, mentioned above, far fewer motorists would have ‘CHARGED’ across the Bridge.

Penalty Charge Notice.

I think, by this point, I have established a pattern of dereliction in WBC’s functioning, but the subject is still not exhausted. I have not had sight of a recent PCN, but can report that the one sent to me, placed me in a bus lane on ‘Parkway’ Bridge. I can assert there is no bridge in, or related to, Parkway retail area. Further, my PCN invited challenge from the aggrieved – a special box and tear-off was provided – but no warning was given that this removes all right to a 50% reduced charge.
When I challenged WBC, I was told, effectively: “That information is on the web”; but there was no web address on the PCN! These guys should be comedy script writers. When one does venture onto WBC web pages, not only is it impossible to pin down vital facts, but one page exists that commences using ‘Parkway Bridge’, wanders off into ‘Park Way Bridge’ then returns to the original ‘Parkway’ rendering. Would you have a visitor to Newbury ask directions from a WBC officer? And as if the above were not crass enough, my PCN says: “West Berkshire Council believes that a Penalty Charge is payable with respect to the above vehicle, for the following alleged contravention:” i.e. this is not a proven offence!

The Transport Regulation Order (TRO) for the TROLL Bridge

At this point, one might reasonably weep. The TRO is carelessly drafted (could it possibly be otherwise?) It manages to designate ‘cyclist’ as a vehicle, only to switch to the more meaningful ‘cycle’ farther on in the document. But this is just hors d’oeuvre.
The meat lies in a convoluted sequence of legalese that contrives to tie itself in such a knot that ALL vehicles are declared to be permitted ‘in a bus lane’. No police presence; no red flag; no R in the month; no hope for WBC.

HOW MANY WEST BERKSHIRE COUNCILLORS DOES IT TAKE TO
CHANGE A LIGHT BULB?

NONE.
THEY PREFER TO KEEP YOU IN THE DARK, AND FINE YOU ANYWAY.

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