St Edmundsbury Borough Council (18 001 455)

Category : Environment and regulation > Drainage

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 17 Dec 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr and Mrs D complain the Council failed to clear drains or sweep the street around their home properly to prevent drains becoming clogged and flooding. The Ombudsman has not found any evidence of fault by the Council. He has completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.

The complaint

  1. The complainants (whom I refer to as Mr and Mrs D) say the Council has failed to clear and maintain drains near their home. They also state the Council has not carried out street sweeping correctly and fails to clean all around the property.

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What I have investigated

  1. Mr and Mrs D refer to events going back several years. I have looked at events from June 2017 onwards.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate late complaints unless he decides there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D)
  2. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have spoken to Mrs D and considered the information she provided. I also asked the Council questions and carefully examined its response.
  2. In addition, I contacted a Councillor who had been assisting Mr and Mrs D.
  3. I have shared my draft decision with both parties.

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What I found

  1. Mr and Mrs D’s home is situated on a plot with roads running either side of the property. One road is privately owned and has drains situated on it. The other road is classed as a highway and the Council is responsible for street sweeping it.
  2. The Council’s records show street sweeping took place on the highway beside Mr and Mrs D’s home in November 2017, March 2018, July and August or September.
  3. In May 2018 Mr and Mrs D wrote to the Council stating the drains near the property had not been properly cleared and they wanted a meeting with a Highways Officers and other concerned parties. The Council replied ten days later that it had contacted the County Council who were responsible for maintaining the drains on the highway. It said the Borough Council swept the street every 13 weeks and it was due to clean again in July.
  4. In June, the Council contacted a local Councillor who was assisting Mr and Mrs D. It understood she was arranging a meeting with the Parish Council and the County Council at the site to discuss options. The Council asked the Councillor to let it know about the outcome.
  5. In July Mr and Mrs D wrote to the Council about the drains blocking. The Council advised this was a matter for the County Council. It also checked with the County Council who confirmed that was correct.
  6. Mrs D says the Council recently carried out street sweeping near her home but she was disappointed with the results.

What should have happened

  1. The Council is responsible for sweeping Council owned land. It has no duty to clean private roads. Its cleaning schedule for rural areas (such as Mr and Mrs D’s location) is approximately every 13 weeks. The Council say the schedule can vary depending on where resources are needed.
  2. The Council carries out site inspections of cleaned areas. These are allocated at random.
  3. The Council is not responsible for the maintenance of drains. Drains on the highway are attended to by the County Council. Drains on private land are the responsibility of the land owner.

Was there fault by the Council

  1. Mr and Mrs D complain the Council failed to clear and maintain the drains near their home. The Council is not responsible for drainage maintenance, that would fall to the County Council for drains on the highway. There is no fault by the Council because it has no role in this part of the complaint.
  2. Mr and Mrs D also say the Council fails to sweep the area around their home. The Council is only responsible for sweeping the highway, it has no duty to sweep private land. In this case part of the land around Mr and Mrs D’s home is a private road and the Council is not required to clean that section. The Council’s records show that it has carried out regular street sweeping in 2017 and 2018. I appreciate Mr and Mrs D may dispute this but I must look at the contemporaneous evidence and in this case the Council’s records confirm cleaning was carried out in the area. There is no requirement on the Council to clean the area on a more regular basis and it is acting in line with procedures. The site has not been inspected after cleaning because inspections are allocated on a random basis. Again, I cannot see any evidence of procedural fault by the Council. I understand Mr and Mrs D may disagree with decisions taken by the Council but the Ombudsman cannot question the validity of those in the absence of fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I have not looked at events prior to June 2017 because the Ombudsman generally expects a complaint to be made to us within 12 months, as set out above.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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