Motorists rack up almost £600,000 in fines since bus gate introduced in Stockport

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A resident has accused the town hall of taking commuters ‘to the cleaners’ but the local authority said the change to the lane was advertised in advance.

Stockport Council has raked in nearly £600,000 in fines since opening a new bus gate back in February.

Only buses, cyclists and licensed taxis are now allowed to travel down Heaton Lane and past the new bridge over the River Mersey, at the junction of Astley Street. Bosses say this is part of the ongoing multi-million-pound transformation of the town’s new transport interchange and makes Heaton Lane a more attractive walking and cycling corridor.

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However, a resident who asked the council how much had been racked up in fines in the first months of it opening has accused the local authority of taking commuters “to the cleaners”. The local authority has robustly defended the opening of the gate, saying plenty of notice was given.

What has happened since the bus gate opened?

Cameras monitoring the bus gate began operating in late February and – after nearly six weeks of warning notices – anyone driving a non-exempt vehicle in the lane was hit with a £60 penalty charge notice (PCN), reduced to £30 if paid within two weeks.

When a family member received a PCN after unwittingly driving in the lane, Pete Farrar asked the council how much money it had made from Heaton Lane bus gate fines between its opening on February 22 and the end of October. And he was astonished when his Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that, despite warning notices being issued until April 4, it had raked in £587,479.12 from 32,866 PCNs.

What did the resident who asked about the fines say?

“We were stunned,” said 52-year-old Peter, who used to live in Hazel Grove and often still visits the town for work. “Nearly 33,000 PCN’s have been issued from this one lane in the seven months it has been active earning the council almost £600k. That’s 150 fines a day from one traffic lane change earning the council approx £85k a month.”

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Peter believes that the signage is not adequate and there is ‘no incentive’ for the authority to improve matters, given the financial benefit. “It is the most profitable piece of land in the Stockport area and it’s appalling commuters are being taken to the cleaners because they aren’t aware the road is now a bus lane.”

He says he is surprised that the council issues the PCNs ‘so freely’, believing first time drivers should first get a warning with fines being handed out to ‘persistent’ offenders.

“I would have thought the idea was to stop people going into it, not to fine them,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. “But there’s no incentive for them to stop it – it’s making them an absolute fortune.

“No one can believe the council is getting so much money, especially at the moment when anyone getting hit with anything unexpected is not going to help them.” That’s a couple of days heating out of the window straight away, I’m just shocked people are getting fined.”

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He believes it is often a case of people unwittingly entering the bus lane, than deliberately flouting the new rules. “It’s people getting caught out and thinking ‘where do I go, what do I do’ – and panicking,” he said.

“I think it’s a really poor way of dealing with it – fining people because they have come to a position where it’s not clear where to go. It’s the responsibility of the council to make it clear it’s not a road for [non-bus] traffic to go through.”

He continued: “Issuing 33,000 fines means whatever they have put in place isn’t sufficient. If that many people are going through – there’s something wrong with the signage.”

What did Stockport Council say?

The town hall has strongly denied that residents were not given warning of the changes on Heaton Lane or that the signs were not obvious. A spokesperson for Stockport Council said that, following the completion of the Travis Brow to A6 link road, Heaton Lane has now been bypassed as a through route for town centre traffic.

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They said: “The bus gate was launched on February 22 with warning letters issued to motorists before PCNs were then sent out from April 4. The council has installed clear signage on the A6 and on surrounding roads warning motorists that the bus gate is live and operational.

“In addition, the bus gate was advertised on the council’s social media channels, in its weekly ‘Review Extra’ newsletter to residents and in local media outlets.”

Once the new Interchange has been completed, Heaton Lane is set to have a primary role as an access to the hub utilising the new bridge over the River Mersey in the town centre. Bosses say this will improve route planning and access for buses and remove them from Mersey Square.

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