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London Borough of Sutton (20 010 499)

Category : Environment and regulation > Trees

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 25 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s refusal to trim back branches of a tree growing on the pavement which overhang his garden. We have not seen evidence of fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council refuses to trim back branches from a tree on the highway which overhang their garden.
  2. He says the tree drops leaves and fruit which make a mess and attract wasps and flies.
  3. He wants the tree cut back or removed.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault.
    (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A (6), as amended)
  2. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3.  

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • Mr X’s complaints to the Council
    • the Council responses; and
    • the Council’s tree policy
  2. Mr X had the opportunity to comment on the draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. There is a tree growing on the pavement outside Mr X’s home. He says branches overhang his garden and the leaf and fruit fall causes a mess which attracts wasps and flies. He says this prevents him from opening windows in the summer.
  2. The Council says it pruned the tree. And it confirms it will be inspected as part of a regular highway inspection. Any further pruning will be carried out when appropriate.
  3. The Council told Mr X of his right to cut back any branches which overhand his property. It also advised him of the legal duty to take reasonable care when cutting back the tree as he may be liable if he damages the tree or causes it to become unstable.

Assessment

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached.
  2. The Council is the highway authority. It is responsible for maintaining amenity trees for the whole community. The tree management strategy says it will:
    • carry out an inspection of all its trees according to a published schedule
    • pruning work will be recommended to remove or minimise hazards and associated problems.
  3. The Council’s strategy also confirms it is not legally obliged to deal with the following:
    • trees or branches blocking light – pruning will be carried out according to the schedule as above
    • tree debris including leaf and fruit fall – this is not a legal nuisance and is regarded as a natural process. Pruning will only be considered as part of the
  4. I understand Mr X wants the Council to prevent its tree dropping leaves and fruit into his garden. However, there is no legal obligation on a tree owner to clear leaf fall or debris from another person’s private property.
  5. The Council’s decision is in line with its published strategy. I have not seen evidence of fault in the way it has decided not to cut back its trees.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate this complaint. This is because I have seen no evidence of fault in the Council’s decision not to prune or remove the tree on the highway outside his property.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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