The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complained that the Council had taken insufficient action to address problems of anti-social behaviour and dangerous parking when sports matches were played at his local park. He also complained that it had not adequately addressed his concerns about flooding of his garden. We have not found fault with the actions the Council took.
- Mr B complained that Wokingham Borough Council (the Council):
- took insufficient action to address the problems of inconsiderate and dangerous parking in his road and attendant anti-social behaviour, when the nearby park was hired out to a sports team;
- failed to ensure the site had adequate facilities since closing the pavilion some years ago; and
- failed to adequately address his concerns that moving the sports pitch has caused flooding of his property to recur.
- This has caused him frustration, distress and time and trouble.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Mr B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
Terms and conditions of hiring Council sports pitches
- These state that teams:
- should conduct themselves in a proper and correct manner with due consideration to other users and staff;
- should pay due respect to residents living immediately adjacent to the pitches;
- should make sure cars parked at the venue will not interfere with residents parking or emergency vehicle access and do not cause damage to grass verges.
- Mr B lives near a park with sports pitches which the Council hires out to local teams. The site used to have a pavilion until it was sold for an alternative use several years ago.
- In September 2018 Mr B made a number of complaints about parking and antisocial behaviour on match days. The Council liaised with the club and negotiated a solution to the parking by providing car park keys. It said that if problems persisted it would have to take more decisive action. Mr B says he complained again in November 2018 but the Council did not respond to the email. Mr B did not pursue the matter further until September 2019 when the problems started again with the new season (players urinating outside his house and inconsiderate parking on his verge/blocking the road).
- The Council contacted the club who agreed to talk to all the players and investigate other parking options for future games.
- Mr B said the interventions had made no difference, the problems were continuing and the two parking areas in the park were not used with cars parked inconsiderately in Mr B’s road.
- The Council gave a key to one of the car parks to the club. Mr B suggested it give keys to both car parks as one would not be sufficient. The following week he complained that parking was still as bad as before.
- The Council said it would do its best to assist with the problem but said that without a traffic regulation order the Council could not enforce against inconsiderate parking. The problems continued into October. The Council said the club had staggered its fixtures to help, it could not open the gate to the large, grassed area as that was for emergency vehicle access only and cars may get stuck in bad weather.
- Mr B said the larger car park on the grassed area had been used the previous year, but the Council said this was not an option. The Council said it would monitor the situation, an officer visited the park twice and continued to liaise with the club.
- Mr B made a formal complaint. The Council responded in January 2020. It said the Council had engaged with the club and reminded it to ensure its members did not park inconsiderately, to supervise parking and perhaps use traffic cones to prevent parking in certain areas. It said if the problems continued it would consider refusing to accept bookings in the future. It advised Mr B to report anti-social behaviour to the police and confirmed that the large car park would not be available due to the need to provide emergency access, along with the risk of cars getting stuck and depositing mud on the highway.
- Mr B then met with two senior officers at the site to discuss the issues. Mr B remained dissatisfied and made a stage two complaint. He said the problems were still continuing. The Council responded in March 2020, outlining the events to date and reiterating it could not stop drivers parking outside Mr B’s property because there were no parking restrictions in place. It advised him to contact the police regarding dangerous parking. It said the intermittent nature of the problem did not justify parking restrictions.
- Mr B had also included concerns that moving the pitch and lack of maintenance had increased the flooding risk to his garden. The Council said this was a separate matter and he should make a separate complaint. He did so in December 2019.
- In June 2020 the Police in conjunction with the Council held a ‘Have your Say’ event at the park to hear residents’ concerns about local issues. Residents gave their views on a number of issues including parking restrictions and antisocial behaviour. Mr B’s local councillor also held a meeting in August 2020 about on-street parking. This has led to a consultation about the introduction of various parking restrictions in the area which is ongoing.
- In June and July 2020, the Council carried out an audit of all its sports sites in conjunction with a borough-wide review of pitch hiring. As a result of this process the Council decided to suspend hiring of the pitch for sport at the park. The Council says this was unrelated to parking and anti-social behaviour but concentrated on the financial viability of single pitch sites, whether the need could be met at other sites and whether the site had adequate facilities to host teams.
- Mr B says that about six years ago the Council investigated repeated flooding of Mr B’s garden. It said the flooding was due to surface run-off after heavy rain, because the drain alongside his boundary with the park had collapsed through lack of maintenance. Mr B said the Council also said that the situation was exacerbated by soil compaction which could be improved by regular maintenance. The Council then carried out some extensive groundworks to improve the drainage.
- Mr B says that in the last two years flooding has started to recur after heavy rain. He says the problem may have arisen due to lack of maintenance to the new drainage system and additional soil compaction exacerbated by moving the pitch to a different area of the park. Mr B made a formal complaint about the problem in October 2019
- In August 2020 the Council said it had investigated the situation and noted that Mr B’s property was in an area at risk of surface water flooding (from the Environment Agency maps). It proposed some works to improve the situation and offered some sandbags in the meantime. Mr B thinks the Council has already done some of the work proposed but the Council cannot find evidence of this on site. It has also found no evidence to support his view that the position of the pitch has made matters worse.
- Mr B says the Council carried out some work in December 2020.
- I have not investigated the closure of the previous facilities because this occurred more than 12 months before Mr B complained to us. It is too long ago to investigate now. I have also taken into account that the current review will consider whether the site has adequate facilities for sports teams.
- The Council responded promptly to Mr B in 2018 and took action to improve the situation. Mr B did not complain again until September 2019.
- In 2019 it engaged with the sports club to secure improvements, but parking problems persisted when matches were played. The Council visited the site and considered his request to use an additional car park or implement parking restrictions. It decided it was not safe for the other car park to be used and did not think parking restrictions could be justified given the intermittent nature of the problems. I understand this was frustrating for Mr B, but I cannot find fault with the way the Council made its decision.
- I have also considered whether the Council should have refused to accept bookings at an earlier point. But I have concluded this would not have been reasonable given that a different team used the pitch from January to March 2020, no sport has taken place since March 2020, the hiring of pitches was suspended in July 2020 and parking restrictions are now being considered. This means there is no ongoing impact on Mr B.
- The Council has responded to Mr B’s concerns about flooding by visiting the site and investigating the current situation. It has proposed carrying out works to hopefully improve the situation and to reconsider the situation when they have been done. I cannot find fault with its actions. I understand Mr B has questioned the necessity of the works and raised concerns about the position of the sports pitch. But it is not for me to say the Council’s approach is wrong. Given it has committed to reconsider the impact once the work has been done, I cannot find fault with its approach.
- I have completed my investigation into this complaint as I am unable to find fault causing injustice in the actions of the Council towards Mr B.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman