Council defends bus gate from 'unlawful' claims

Matt Sanders is calling on the Cumberland Road bus gate to be scrapped and fines refunded
-Credit: (Image: Matt Sanders)

Bristol City Council has defended its installation of a bus gate on a key route into the city centre, after one irate driver wrote a 150-page report to a tribunal explaining why the tens of thousands of fines issued to drivers should be invalid.

Matt Sanders has compiled the hefty report, which he has sent to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, detailing why he claims the bus gate on Cumberland Road has been installed incorrectly, and why all the thousands of drivers caught going through it should have their fines quashed.

The city council said national guidance from the government on how to create a bus gate said that, legally, only two signs are required to signal the presence of a bus gate, but the one on Cumberland Road has 14 - and the council recently retarmacked the road approaching the bus gate a different colour to warn motorists about it.

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The city council installed a bus gate for traffic heading east along Cumberland Road - the road along the north bank of the New Cut River Avon. It means cars, vans and lorries can’t continue along Cumberland Road as far as the Redcliffe side of the Bedminster Bridge roundabout, effectively making Spike Island and the area around SS Great Britain a cul-de-sac for private vehicles when approached from the west.

It was installed in August 2023, and when the ANPR cameras were set up in December, the council began issuing warning notices to motorists who went through it. That lasted until January 2, when fines began being issued - with motorists told that they have to pay £70 for each time they went through the bus gate, which could reduce to £35 if they paid straight away.

Mr Sanders, from Windmill Hill, said the bus gate has caught an extraordinary number of motorists - particularly when compared to similar bus gates in Bristol and across the country. Figures released by Bristol City Council revealed that the council was issuing penalty charge notices at a rate of around 10,000 a month, and, if the present rate continued until the end of the year, the bus gate could see the council netting as much as £4 million in fines revenue - just from Cumberland Road alone.

Mr Sanders said the road’s location contributed to this, with drivers using Cumberland Road as an alternative route into the city centre from the Portway and North Somerset - which was one of the intentions of the city council in installing it in the first place. It is also close to the SS Great Britain and the Baltic Wharf caravan site, meaning it is a road that sees a lot of visitors.

Bristol Live reported many times since 2022 that the bus gate was coming - it was controversial with many residents and drivers objecting to the idea. Bristol Live then reported it was installed the weekend in August that the Cumberland Road was reopened to traffic, and again on the number of fines being issued. And Bristol Live also reported on the council laying down new red tarmac around the bus gate in April.

Cumberland Road now has a bus gate with red asphalt. It has been controversial to say the least.
From when the bus gate became active on January 2 to March 19, more than 22,000 penalty charge notices have been issued

Mr Sanders’ report said the Department of Transport’s rules around signage for were ‘threadbare, vague, ambiguous and incomplete’, and allowed local councils to install bus gates and fine people where the meaning of the bus gate remained vague.

He said the present blue sign which indicates that buses, motorbikes, bicycles and taxis can pass through, were not clear enough that private vehicles - cars, vans and lorries - would be fined if they did.

How Bristol Live has told readers about the Cumberland Road bus gate

His lengthy report claims ‘25 reasons why this badly-designed bus gate is unenforceable, all the penalty charges should be refunded and the bus gate dismantled without any further delay’.

His report stated that he works at Aardman Animations - albeit at the animation firm’s base in the north of the city in Aztec West. “I sent an email around the company to ask if any colleagues had been caught out by this bus gate,” he said. “Twenty colleagues replied. Several had received three or four PCNs, one had incurred six, another eight and one had 11.

“Their penalty charge notices didn’t start arriving until two weeks after the first contravention, by which time they had been through it several more times,” he added.

Mr Sanders said he has sent his report to every single new councillor elected at the start of May to City Hall.

Bristol City Council said the bus gate on Cumberland Road was completely legal. “National government regulations only require councils to display two signs for a bus gate, but we have installed 14 signs in the area for this one alongside clear ‘bus gate’ road markings,” a spokesperson said.

“To give extra warning, an electronic sign was put in place for a month shortly after the bus gate was installed in September 2023. People who continued to drive through this bus gate in error were issued with warning letters as a reminder, before the first Penalty Charge Notices were issued four months later in January 2024.”

“All vehicles can still travel eastbound on Cumberland Road up to the bus gate, which means that the SS Great Britain and other nearby Spike Island attractions can still be accessed from both directions.

“Motorists should always follow road signs, rather than sat navs/navigation devices. You would need to contact those route providers directly about their software. While councils are not required to install red road surfacing at bus gates, we have taken this step at the Cumberland Road bus gate to further enhance its visibility,” he added.