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“We are sorry if we have not always got it right”: Council waives penalties for cyclists fined by “cowboy” wardens for riding on pavements and town centre streets

The local authority admitted that “responsible” cyclists were issued £100 fines despite not committing a “significant breach” of the city’s PSPO, and that education – not fines – should be prioritised

Colchester City Council has apologised and agreed to waive all fines recently – and mistakenly – issued to cyclists for allegedly breaching the local authority’s rules on cycling in pedestrian areas and on pavements, after local campaigners complained that people on bikes were being unfairly targeted by third-party “cowboy” wardens “running amok”, discouraging people from cycling in the city.

In a statement issued in the wake of road.cc’s in-depth examination of the controversy and the backlash from Colchester’s cycling community, the council admitted that it understands the “frustrations” of the city’s “responsible” cyclists concerning the implementation of its Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) – ostensibly designed to prevent anti-social, nuisance, and dangerous behaviour in the Essex city, but which local cyclists have claimed is being used as a “money-making scheme” by a private organisation contracted to the council.

The local authority also acknowledged that many of those fined were not committing a “significant breach” of the PSPO, and noted that some of the alleged infractions – such as riding slowly on the pavement – are the result of poor cycling infrastructure in the city.

While agreeing to waive all recently issued and contested fines as part of a “reset” in its approach to city centre cycling, Colchester City Council also promised to instruct its wardens to consider “aggravating circumstances” for cyclists accused of breaching the order, and not to issue fines as a first resort, with education instead taking precedence.

Head Street cycle lane, Colchester (Essex Highways)

> Cyclists riding through town centre threatened with £1,000 fines and told they “don’t pay road tax” as “cowboy” wardens accused of “running amok” – but council orders staff to stop fining cyclists

Since the start of 2024, 62 cyclists have been fined £100 each in Colchester by wardens employed by the Waste Investigations Support and Enforcement (WISE) agency, an external organisation subcontracted by Colchester City Council and at least 20 other local authorities across the UK where PSPOs are in place.

Of those 62 cyclists fined by WISE, the Colchester Cycling Campaign believes around 50 were issued penalties mistakenly or without due reason, such as while cycling on shared-use paths, on city centre streets where cycling is permitted, and while riding at walking pace on footways.

Meanwhile, residents also accused the wardens of “lying in wait” for cyclists to supposedly breach the PSPO, and have complained about the third-party agency’s “opaque” appeals process, which they say has been plagued by communication issues and threats of an increased £1,000 penalty for failing to pay the initial fine.

Earlier this week, road.cc explored the furore surrounding Colchester’s controversial cycling PSPO, an increasingly popular (and controversial) method used by local authorities to clamp down on what they deem to be dangerous cycling.

> “Why pick on a lone female cyclist?” Cyclist slapped with £100 fine – for riding on a cycle path

The controversy began in earnest in March, when female cyclist Helge Gillmeister was issued with a £100 fine for, according to the warden who stopped her, “riding on the footpath” – when, in fact, the path in question has been designated a shared-use cycle route since 2011.

Shared cycle path along Southway, Colchester (Colchester Cycling Campaign)

Since then, the fines have continued to stack up, and with them local cyclists’ increasingly vocal criticism of the PSPO and its implementation.

Last month, two cyclists, Stuart Braybrooke and Thomas Roper, were fined on the same stretch of footway on different occasions while cycling at walking pace to avoid a notoriously dangerous roundabout, prompting Roper’s father Mike to accuse the council and wardens of displaying a lack of “common sense” when it comes to the safety of vulnerable road users.

In late May, 67-year-old cyclist Judith Highfield was cycling with her partner Mark to the shops on Culver Street, when both cyclists were stopped by WISE wardens and fined for riding in a no-cycling zone and on the footway, respectively – despite the Colchester Cycling Campaign noting since that Culver Street West does not feature a ‘no cycling’ sign and that the current ‘no motor vehicles’ signage is outdated and should be replaced by a ‘pedestrian and cycle zone’ sign.

Judith, meanwhile, told road.cc that, when she informed the warden of the presence of parked cars and motorbikes on the road in question, the WISE employee allegedly responded by saying she shouldn’t be cycling on the street because she doesn’t “pay road tax”.

Culver Street West, Colchester

Local campaigners have also received another report of a cyclist being fined for riding slowly along Culver Street West, along with anecdotal – and so far unproven – claims that people have been stopped and fined for “pushing their bikes” on the street.

And last week, on Long Wyre Street, another elderly female cyclist was similarly riding her bike in an area with a ‘no motor vehicles’ sign when she was stopped and fined £100 by WISE wardens, who also claimed she was riding on the footpath – the same erroneous reason that was given to cyclist Will Innocent when he was stopped and fined by a warden for riding his bike on a street where cycling is permitted.

> “Rogue” wardens accused of “lying in wait” for cyclists riding on pavement beside busy roundabout

Following the alarming rise in cycling fines in the city, the Colchester Cycling Campaign has launched a vocal crusade calling on the council to reword its existing PSPO, first introduced last autumn and which – despite the local authority initially assuring activists that it would “only be used against cyclists riding at people and crossing flowerbeds” – the campaign believes is too open to interpretation and enabling WISE’s wardens to target cyclists for the most minimal of infractions.

And today, a spokesperson for Colchester City Council apologised for how the PSPO has so far been implemented by the local authority’s subcontracted wardens – by contrast, no fines have been issued to cyclists by the council’s own wardens this year – and said they are “committed to ensuring the PSPO is applied fairly and consistently” and focused on the “most serious” forms of anti-social behaviour.

The council also agreed to waive all recently issued fines, and any currently under appeal, building on the local authority’s Liberal Democrat leader David King’s pledge to review the penalty process and to instruct wardens to warn, not fine, whilst the review is ongoing.

Head Street cycle lane in Colchester (Essex County Council)

> Cycling levels up one month on from outspoken critics claiming cycle lane was "accident waiting to happen for pedestrians"

“We understand the concerns raised by cycling campaigners. We take cyclist and pedestrian safety very seriously and acknowledge that a lack of safe cycling infrastructure can lead some cyclists to use the pavement,” the council spokesperson said.

“We also understand that some cyclists may have been issued fines when their actions were not a significant breach of the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) or antisocial behaviour (ASB). To ensure everyone’s safety, however, it is also important to remember that the Highway Code and Road Traffic Act still apply to cyclists.

“We are sorry if we have not always got it right. We recognise the frustration for responsible cyclists. We are committed to ensuring the PSPO is applied fairly and consistently, focusing enforcement on the most serious ASB issues that truly impact our community.”

The spokesperson continued: “PSPOs are vital for maintaining a safe and attractive city centre. These orders are not taken lightly and are implemented after a rigorous process involving evidence gathering and community feedback.

“To that end, we will be strengthening guidance for our enforcement partner, WISE, to emphasise the need to assess lack of due care and attention, as well as aggravating circumstances. 

“This information should be clearly explained at the time of any interaction, which should be about education before any fine for cycling is issued.

"We are also asking WISE to waive all recently issued and contested fines, and to review others on a case-by-case basis, as needed.

“This reset should help give confidence that we are listening to residents to look after the interests of pedestrians and cyclists, and to achieve clear and consistent enforcement across Colchester.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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25 comments

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Hirsute | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Tweets 25/6

We're proud of Colchester's ambition to be a cycling city & want to do everything we can to make cycling an attractive & healthy choice available to all our residents & visitors.

As such, we want to apologise for a number of inappropriate fines recently issued to cyclists in the city centre. There are instances where we've got it wrong, and we're therefore cancelling all outstanding contested Penalty Notices. [❌] [🚫]

We're strengthening our guidance to our enforcement partner WISE, which we hope will lead to a clearer approach for everyday cyclists. [🔧] [🤝]

It is of course worth re-iterating that the Highway Code and Road Traffic Act still apply to cyclists, and anti-social or dangerous cycling will still be subject to enforcement as per our Public Space Protection Order. [🚴‍♀️] [🚦]
 

https://x.com/yourcolchester/status/1805617995290403028

They will punish red light jumping cyclists and ignore red light jumping 2T drivers.

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open_roads | 1 month ago
1 like

These people have no legal right to demand your name or address. If stopped tell them to jog on and just ignore them. 

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Rendel Harris replied to open_roads | 1 month ago
2 likes

open_roads wrote:

These people have no legal right to demand your name or address. If stopped tell them to jog on and just ignore them. 

People keep repeating this, it's simply not true. Breaching a PSPO is a criminal offence and an accredited council officer, even if subcontracted from a private company, has a legal right to issue an FPN and demand your name and address. It's a criminal offence to refuse and you can be arrested for it if any police officers are close by or the council may publish CCTV and bodycam footage of you to find you. You may be fined up to £1000 for refusing to give details. I don't like it any more than anyone else, and by all means "jog on" if you think you can get away with it, but I think people need to be aware that the consequences could be a heavy fine and a criminal record.

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pockstone replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
3 likes

Good point Rendel, but where does one stand if the warden is stopping you for riding legally on the road without 'paying road tax', or demonstrably not contravening the PSPO. Does one have to hand over personal details (and be arrested if you don't) if you haven't done anything wrong?

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Rendel Harris replied to pockstone | 1 month ago
1 like

pockstone wrote:

Good point Rendel, but where does one stand if the warden is stopping you for riding legally on the road without 'paying road tax', or demonstrably not contravening the PSPO. Does one have to hand over personal details (and be arrested if you don't) if you haven't done anything wrong?

I believe so yes, and then you would have to turn down the FPN when it arrived and argue your case in court. I'm not 100% sure but I assume that you could still be charged with refusing to give your details even if you were ultimately found innocent, at least that is the case with the police, if they try to arrest you for something you haven't done and you run away or otherwise resist you can be charged with resisting arrest and/or obstructing a police officer in the course of their duty even if you are found innocent of the offence for which you were arrested (although I believe in practice generally the charge won't be pressed unless you did something seriously wrong in resisting arrest such as punching an officer or similar).

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mdavidford replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

I believe so yes, and then you would have to turn down the FPN when it arrived and argue your case in court.

Or hope that the council thinks twice about pursuing it and rescinds it.

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hawkinspeter replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

I would think that if no offense has been committed then they have no right to demand your details. It'd surely fall foul of GDPR if they're demanding personal identifying information without it being for the purpose of law enforcement.

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pockstone replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
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This was the gist of my earlier rhetorical question, and if you do give your details are you, in effect, accepting guilt?

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Rendel Harris replied to pockstone | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

pockstone wrote:

This was the gist of my earlier rhetorical question, and if you do give your details are you, in effect, accepting guilt?

You wouldn't be accepting guilt, you would be accepting that they are going to send you an FPN which you will then have the option of challenging in court.

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Rendel Harris replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

I would think that if no offense has been committed then they have no right to demand your details. It'd surely fall foul of GDPR if they're demanding personal identifying information without it being for the purpose of law enforcement.

They would be if no alleged offence had been committed, but law/council enforcement officers are entitled to demand your details if they believe you have committed an offence and intend to charge you with it. It's then down to the person accused to decide if they want to fight the FPN.

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mdavidford replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
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Strictly speaking, I think they have to have a 'reasonable belief'. So maybe if they caught up to you you could advance a defence that there was no such reasonable belief.

In practice, though, I'd say that in all likelihood they're not going to consider it worth trying to track you down in the first place.

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hawkinspeter replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
2 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

They would be if no alleged offence had been committed, but law/council enforcement officers are entitled to demand your details if they believe you have committed an offence and intend to charge you with it. It's then down to the person accused to decide if they want to fight the FPN.

It'd be an interesting test case if a cyclist refuses to give their details due to no offence being committed and the only actual offence was their refusal to submit details due to the officer being mistaken about the law.

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qwerty360 | 1 month ago
8 likes

50 out of 62.

 

So 80% are fraudulent.

 

How on earth has WISE not immediately lost its contract over this.

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mdavidford replied to qwerty360 | 1 month ago
8 likes

Probably because all the power in the contract lies with the supplier, and it would be very costly to exit it. Local authorities have a tendency to be quite bad at negotiating these kind of things.

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wycombewheeler replied to mdavidford | 1 month ago
3 likes

mdavidford wrote:

Probably because all the power in the contract lies with the supplier, and it would be very costly to exit it. Local authorities have a tendency to be quite bad at negotiating these kind of things.

The council are probably paying WISE to meet ticket target or per ticket for them to be acting in this manner. Hopefully they were smart enough in the contract that only valid tickets count.

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mdavidford replied to wycombewheeler | 1 month ago
3 likes

Hopefully, but I wouldn't count on it.

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OldRidgeback | 1 month ago
4 likes

Why has the council not cancelled the contracts for these third party wardens?

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eburtthebike | 1 month ago
7 likes

Will WISE be refunding the cyclists, or will the cost fall on the council tax payers?

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alchemilla | 1 month ago
3 likes

Why do the cyclists who were stopped give their name?
They're under no obligation to give their name to an individual working for a private company.
Just cycle off.

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Rendel Harris replied to alchemilla | 1 month ago
3 likes

alchemilla wrote:

Why do the cyclists who were stopped give their name? They're under no obligation to give their name to an individual working for a private company. Just cycle off.

I don't believe that's the case, breach of a PSPO is a criminal offence for which a police officer or authorised council officer can issue an FPN as an alternative to prosecution, if you refuse to give your details to a person authorised by the council to issue FPNs that is also a criminal offence for which you can be fined up to £1000. Council officers don't have the power to detain you if you refuse to give your name but they can summon police assistance to do so and the council can publish images from CCTV and bodycams to help identify you. It doesn't matter whether the individual works for a private company or not, if the private company has been authorised to carry out enforcement activities for the council they have the same authority as a direct employee of the council.

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mdavidford replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
9 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

they can summon police assistance

At which point, presumably, the police will hand them a crime number and shrug...?

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marmotte27 | 1 month ago
9 likes

“We are sorry if we have not always got it right”

Newspeak for "We have so royally fucked up it beggars belief!"

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wtjs replied to marmotte27 | 1 month ago
3 likes

“We are sorry if we have not always got it right”

This is only a tiny bit better than the usual non-apology apology: we are sorry you feel that we have not always got it right

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Cayo | 1 month ago
4 likes

Perhaps the council should also be suggesting to 'WISE' that a new name and acronym might be in order.

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polainm | 1 month ago
9 likes

Colchester City Council merely reflects the UK highway culture towards people choosing to use a bicycle for transport. 

Poorly designed underfunded cycle infrastructure is decades typical. We are at least 50 years behind the Dutch now.

The 'wardens' are just public brainwashed by the media to attack a mindset that is whipped up as 'outsiders' who don't obey the car-orientated domination. Ignorance, anger and arrogance are their mantra. 

Council staff didn't reckon on the reality of people who promote cycling actually fighting back. As it's clearly not the council that is promoting this mode. 

Maybe there is a lesson here? Cyclists should aim their despair not at the faceless indifference of highways or council, but at the town/city PR department....

I certainly won't be visiting Colchester any time soon for sure. 

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