Bus lane warning in Newcastle's John Dobson Street 'misleading'
A report has found that a bus lane, once home to the most lucrative enforcement camera in England, had "misleading and wrong" road signs.
Nearly £6,000 a day was generated from penalty charges for the council in 2016 on Newcastle's John Dobson Street.
The Traffic Penalty Tribunal upheld a previous ruling that drivers were not given enough warning and accused the council of "fundamental negligence".
Newcastle City Council denied that it had misled drivers.
The Labour-led local authority has not yet decided whether to appeal and insisted measures were compliant with government guidelines, something the adjudicator agreed with.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said local authorities were responsible for placing traffic signs and it was for them to ensure any sign they placed was lawful.
Fines 'unfairly paid'
The figures were revealed after an investigation by BBC England found almost 4,000 motorists a day were being fined for driving in bus lanes across the country, raising an estimated £31m between 2015-16.
In Newcastle, almost 92,000 drivers were caught on the northbound side of the city centre road between the camera being installed in February 2016 and shut off in June 2017.
Fines totalled £1.5m from February to October 2016 alone.
In a 15-page ruling, which took three years to publish, chief adjudicator Caroline Sheppard found that a sign on the approach to the roundabout should have been replaced as it misdirected drivers to the bus lane.
She added that the "misleading and wrong" warning sign on John Dobson Street itself could be easily obscured by buses and incorrectly implied there were through roads, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
Ms Sheppard also said warning letters could have been issued at first, rather than an immediate fine.
Fines for drivers improperly using the bus lane, initially charged at £60, have been suspended ever since. It is not known if refunds will be issued.
Campaigner David Crawford-Emery took his case to the tribunal in 2017 and had his fine overturned.
He said: "I think that this opens up the possibility now, that the council will have to refund thousands of fines that have been unfairly paid out."
Councillor Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport, said: "We would absolutely refute any suggestion that the council has been negligent or has misled drivers in any way, particularly as the measures we put in place were compliant with the government guidelines.
"It is precisely these inconsistencies, both with different adjudications and the DfT guidance we have to follow, which prompted us to request this review all those years ago, and it is disappointing that these issues have still not been adequately addressed in the chief adjudicator's decision."