Yesterday the Ealing Times really went over the top with their front page headline: “Ealing Council could be investigated by police for fraud“. Ealing Times is about to be closed down by their owners and will not be published after Christmas so maybe journalist Alex Hayes just doesn’t care anymore.
Ealing Council has always believed its yellow box junctions across T junctions to be legal and that is the legal advice we have had every time we asked the question. Legal matters are not always black and white whatever journalists and opposition councillors like to make out.
When we started losing some PATAS appeals on these junctions we asked ourselves how we should resolve it as PATAS cannot make general judgements – it can only rule on individual cases. We might have decided to go to judicial review. This would have been expensive and we do not think that going to law at this level is what council tax payers want us to spend their money on. We decided to get the opinion of the Department for Transport (DfT). This request was made “without prejudice”. In other words we have always maintained and still maintain that these junctions are legal.
Once the DfT had disagreed with us we felt that as these box junctions were controversial we should remove them. We also felt that we should refund those fined up from when we first heard from the DfT that it disagreed with our own legal advice. We could easily have taken the view that these were always legal so we would not refund anyone. We chose what we thought was a fair and reasonable position.
To illustrate how grey these issues are let me quote from a PATAS case (No. 2080453909). The adjudicator, Anthony Engel, said on 4th September 2008 of a case concerning the South Road/Cambridge Road junction:
I, myself, am inclined to the view that a local authority is entitled to use a Box conforming with Diagram 1043 at a T-junction (ie a full width box junction) – as otherwise, the local authority is unable to prevent traffic stopping on the far side of a T-junction and it seems to be that a local authority ought to have the power to do so.
However, I am not so firm in my view that I am prepared to depart from the decisions made by the Chief Adjudicator (and other Adjudicators).
Accordingly, after some hesitation, I follow the decision referred to and I allow this appeal.
So it seems that Engel agreed with our own legal advice but found against the council in any case. You might say: “So what?”, but Engel didn’t have to make this point as late as this September. He could have kept quiet knowing how controversial this case has already become, but clearly he felt there was justice in our case which should be acknowledged. This case is not black and white and both the Ealing Times and Cllr Mahfouz are simply wrong to suggest that it is.