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No refunds for night-time bus lane offenders: Relaxation of fines will not be applied retroactively, warns Sinn Fein minister Chris Hazzard

By Adrian Rutherford

People fined after driving in Belfast's bus lanes late at night will not be refunded despite a U-turn on 24-hour penalties.

Last month, officials announced a relaxation of the rules at East Bridge Street, which passes Central Station.

It followed complaints about the camera operating 24 hours a day, even though buses do not run at night.

However, Sinn Fein Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard warned that anyone already caught should not expect a refund on their £45 fine.

"Any change to the legislation will not be retrospective," he said. "This means that voiding penalties (penalty charge notices) and refunding fine payments is not justified."

Mr Hazzard was responding to an Assembly question from DUP MLA Lord Morrow.

The Belfast Telegraph reported last month how more than 2,000 people had been fined for driving in the city's bus lanes between midnight and 6am.

Some 115 fines were issued on East Bridge Street and a further 2,090 were issued at Castle Street - a buses-only route.

Bus services do not run at night in the city centre. The last ends before midnight.

The bus lane at East Bridge Street will be restricted from 7am to 7pm, in line with most others in the city.

Two other 24-hour cameras, on the Upper Newtownards Road and the Saintfield Road at Forestside, will also have their hours reduced.

Mr Hazzard explained: "My department is currently in the process of amending the legislation relating to the hours of operation of the bus lanes in East Bridge Street, Saintfield Road at Forestside and Upper Newtownards Road.

"This process is aimed at changing the hours of operation for these bus lanes from 24 hours to 12 hours per day, making them operational from 7am to 7pm.

"However, until the changes are implemented, non-permitted vehicles travelling along these bus lanes during the current hours of operation will be in contravention as the current legislation remains in place."

Bus lanes were introduced in 2012 as part of the Belfast on the Move traffic plan.

There are now more than 60 across the city.

Since June last year, motorists who drive in the lanes face a £90 fine, which is reduced to £45 if paid within two weeks.

Belfast's bus lane cameras raised more than £2.7m in their first 15 months.

That is well in excess of the £500,000 that they had been expected to generate every year.

Up to August 31 this year, a total of 51,811 penalty charge notices were issued.

They were worth a combined £2,729,021 - or £6,245 a day on average.

One camera, at Donegall Square East beside City Hall, was responsible for 17,972 penalties totalling £975,242.

The other hotspots are Castle Street, where drivers have been issued 14,184 fines worth £706,366, and Great Victoria Street, where more than 8,100 fines worth £442,978 have been generated.

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