Jonathan Schofield has a (very detailed) word with Paul Hope about fines, historical routes and 'de-trunking'

IF a road is a straight road between two given points, thus affording the quickest movement between these two points, then logically you follow it. Of course, in 2019, we are amidst the halcyon days of traffic calming, bike lanes and bus lanes. The simple notion of a straight road taking you from A to B has eroded, especially in built up areas.

This is to be welcomed in most cases, particularly in city cores. It is better to have cleaner air and not suffer the hurly-burly of traffic noise and congestion. I’m a cyclist and appreciate this. Yet the wheels of commerce still have to move and for many people, the vagaries of public transport, its pace and its failures (Northern Rail being simply the most unholy beast of inconvenience) means that cars are still vital to many people.

The problem for the council is it might render all those fines void and that involves a huge sum of money

Oxford Street/Road from Portland Street to Hathersage Road, a distance of around a mile and a half, is a road that has given up any A to B pretence. It has eight different zones where private cars can and can’t drive between 6am and 9pm, seven days a week. Remember this is one street.

To mark all the different areas, there are large numbers of signs although, evidently, as we shall see, not enough. It must have cost a fortune to provide these, maybe we should seek a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request, because somebody has made a killing.

Oxford Road Street Signs Img 7059
"Therefore, logically, Oxford Road, Oxford Street and Peter Street is still part of the Primary Route Network" - Paul Hope

Paul Hope, who was fined on Oxford Street/Road took his case to a tribunal armed with a FOI with a cunning twist.

“Oxford Street/Road is the A34, historically,” says Hope. “This is a major road running from the A33 and M3 at Winchester in Hampshire, to the A6 and A6042 in Salford, close to Manchester city centre. It forms a large part of the major trunk route from Southampton, via Oxford, The Potteries and Manchester.”

Now bear with him on these details because they are important to his case.

“Changes, called de-trunking, of the A34 classification were required prior to April 2012 by the Secretary of State,” says Hope. “After that date Manchester City Council gained control of the road within the city, but road classification changes can only follow when a`Roads Classification and Primary Route Network (PRN) change form’ has been issued.’

This is the where the FOI comes in. Kevin Gillam, Head of Highways Citywide, Manchester City Council replied to Hope’s request with: “We have searched our records and confirm we cannot find records of any de-trunking of the A34. This includes both pre and post 2012.”

“Therefore, logically, Oxford Road, Oxford Street and Peter Street is still part of the Primary Route Network,” says Hope, “and cannot be bus gated, and traffic cannot be banned or restricted from using it.”

Oxford Road Street Signs Img 7060
Local traffic... other (non local?) traffic... what? Ahh.

He pauses and continues with: “This is a bit technical but the A34 as a primary route and trunk road is subject to the various volumes of the design manuals for roads, bridges, traffic signs, road lighting and markings. The principles are these; traffic signs perform a key role in communicating directions, warnings, regulations and other information to road users, and must therefore be maintained so that they facilitate the safe use and effective operation of the highway. 

"Crucially over-provision of information on traffic signs has a negative impact on the comprehension of road users and these bus gate signs only allow two seconds to comprehend their instructions whilst navigating in traffic, say, while approaching Oxford Road Station lights.” 

It’s odd, suspicious maybe, that six months after my appeal there has been no answer from the adjudicator

Hope refers to a Manchester Evening News article of August last year which noted that almost 1,000 drivers a day, at that time, were being fined, with Manchester city council scooping up something like £20m in fines.

“It is obvious there has been a failure in signage,” says Hope. “My questions regarding the legality of the bus gate and the A34 road classification have been before the Road Traffic Tribunal since August and Theresa’d down the road by the adjudicator. I’m still waiting for an answer almost six months after my appeal.”

Oxford Road Buses 58F
Oxford Road is allegedly the busiest bus route in Europe

The fact that Oxford Street/Road hasn’t been properly de-trunked is no doubt an oversight, a failure to look at the detail. The problem for the council is it might render all those fines void and that involves a huge sum of money. 

It hasn’t helped that the application of the scheme on Oxford Street/Road has been heavy-handed and has resulted in an incredibly complicated scheme. Nor can it be denied there’s a bad whiff associated with issuing large numbers of fines to people trying to get in and out of Manchester’s biggest hospital.

The council have said they think a ‘reasonably diligent’ motorist should be able to take heed of the signs and scoot easily through the intricacies of Oxford Street/Road. They said back in August that they were ‘currently waiting Department for Transport approval for extra signage to further help motorists’. Confidential has asked the council if there has been any such signage forthcoming. We are waiting for the answer.

Paul Hope says: “It’s odd, suspicious maybe, that six months after my appeal there has been no answer from the adjudicator. Maybe it’s time for a judicial review of the situation.”