The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X says the Council was at fault in its investigation of flooding of the road he lives in and that it has failed to take action to prevent future flooding. The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault by the Council in these matters and for this reason he has ended his investigation of this complaint
- Mr X says the Council was at fault in its handling of matters related to the flooding in the road he lives in. In particular Mr X says the Council has wrongly concluded the flooding originates from several sources despite him providing evidence proving otherwise. He also says the Council has failed to take any action to prevent future flooding, update residents on matters or reply properly to his complaints. For these reasons Mr X says the flooding continues to occur and his property, and other nearby homes, continue to be at risk of flooding.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated Mr X’s concerns about matters which have occurred in the last 12 months. I have not considered matters which occurred longer than 12 months ago and the later part of my statement explains my reasons for not doing so.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 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)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of my consideration of this complaint I discussed the complaint with Mr X and considered information he provided. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response. I set out my initial view on the complaint in a draft decision statement. I considered Mr X’s comments and I made additional enquiries of the Council in response.
What I found
- Mr X lives in Road Y which is located at the bottom of a hill. The River Sherbourne flows via a channel alongside Road Y. At the top of the hill is Road Q. Properties within Road Q have a watercourse running through their gardens. Also in Road Q is a culvert which carries water under the adjoining road, hereafter referred to as Road P, (which also has a junction with Road Y) and into the River Sherbourne.
- To the east of Road Q is agricultural land which historically contained a pond and drainage features.
- The area did not have any problems with flooding until 2008. A further incident of flooding occurred in late 2012 following which the Council and the Environment Agency (EA) investigated.
- In February 2016 further flooding occurred following heavy rainfall. The Council investigated the matter. As part of its investigation it conducted a ‘Flood Surgery’ with local residents and the EA. The Council says information provided by residents at the meeting identified that the flooding was caused by intense rainfall on to saturated ground resulting in the rainfall running down the hill and not into the river.
- Mr X wrote to the Council via his councillor raising concerns about the flooding. The Council replied explaining that it was working on a flood alleviation scheme and provided details of its sandbag policy.
- Another incident of flooding occurred in June. This incident occurred during the day and local residents say they saw water running off the agricultural land to the east of Road Q. Mr X told the Council about this and advised it that pipe work had been introduced to drain water away from the land.
- In response, the Council met with Mr X and advised him that it would it continue its investigation and keep in touch with him.
- Following the meeting Mr X wrote to the Council saying it should take enforcement action against the owner of the agricultural land for diverting water from the property resulting in flooding. The Council replied that it was continuing with its investigation.
- Mr X asked the Council for a meeting and it agreed. At the meeting (held in August) Mr X provided the Council with photographs supporting his view that new pipework on the agricultural land was the cause of the flooding.
- Correspondence between Mr X and the Council continued during which Mr X questioned if the owner of the agricultural land could continue to discharge water away from the property. He also said the owner was using three pipes to discharge water away from his land and into a channel at the rear of properties in Road Q.
- In an email dated 27 September, the Council explained to Mr X the sources of flooding it had identified and the action it is taking to resolve the problems. Further correspondence ensued with the Council setting out its view on land owner drainage rights in an email dated 12 October.
- Correspondence between Mr X and the Council continued. The Council decided to treat Mr X’s communications as a complaint and the matter was escalated to the second stage of its complaints process in November. The Council sent a reply in December in which it set out the actions it has taken. It did not uphold the complaint.
- Meanwhile the Council’s investigation had found:
- Existing ditches in Road P were blocked;
- CCTV had indentified the culvert in Road Q was completely blocked;
- Water drainage features and a pond had been removed from the agricultural land to the east of Road Q. The pond was replaced with pipework to drain water away from the land into adjoining farmland and then into a ditch in Road Q.;
- Property owners in Road Q had restricted the width of the watercourse ditches running through their properties which reduced the capacity of the ditches; and
- Surface water runoff from the saturated farmland flowed in Road P during the June incident. The banks of the River Sherbourne were also breached with the excess water flowing down to Road P. This surface water resulted in the junction of Road P and Road Y being flooded.
- In response to its findings the Council has taken the following action:
- Cleared ditches along Road P and introduced additional ditches and constructed with new pipework and head walls. It also checked there were no blockages in the existing ditches;
- Cleared the culvert in Road Q and undertaken works to make the channel feeding into the culvert bigger and to widen the size of the connection; and
- Agreed with the agent of the owner of the agricultural land to reinstate ditches on the land and to clear out existing ditches. This will be carried out once it has been established that the culvert improvement works have been successful.
- The Council says it will also:
- Introduce a flood risk management scheme in the area once sufficient funding has been secured;
- Re-route the culvert in Road Q so that it flows more efficiently;
- Assist property owners in Road Q with their riparian responsibilities and where appropriate take enforcement action to return ditches to their original state;
- Restore the ditch on the agricultural land; and
- Take enforcement action to address the pipework on the agricultural land discharging on to the adjacent farmland.
- Mr X remains unhappy and says the Council has not taken action to prevent further flooding in this area.
- It is not for the Ombudsman to substitute his judgement for that of the Council’s officers. Instead he examines the process leading to the Council’s decisions for evidence of fault.
- In its correspondence with Mr X, the Council explained how its officers were investigating the flooding and his claimed reasons for the flooding. The Council then provided a more comprehensive account of its investigations and the reasons its officers concluded there were several factors that led to the flooding of Road Y.
- I do not consider there is fault in the process that led to the Council’s decisions. This is because the Council:
- Inspected the existing ditches in the local area to see if they were blocked or restricted;
- Carried out CCTV surveys to establish if any of the ditches or culverts were blocked;
- Met with Mr X and considered his evidence that flooding was originating from agricultural land to the east of Road Q; and.
- Inspected the agricultural land to the east of Road Q to establish the water discharge arrangements.
- I appreciate that Mr X considers the water discharge arrangements on the agricultural land is a key contributor to the flooding. However, the Council has a different opinion based on the findings of its investigations. I have found no evidence of fault in how the Council conducted its investigations and therefore there are no reasons for me to question its decision.
- Mr X says the Council did not have regard to the information he provided demonstrating that water discharge arrangements at the agricultural land were the cause of the flooding. I do not agree. The Council considered Mr X’s comments and information and as a result it visited the site and spoke with the land agent. I do not find the Council at fault in this matter.
- I am also satisfied the Council acted on the findings of its investigation and has taken action to prevent future flooding. This is because it has cleared blocked or restricted ditches, introduced new ditches, widened the culvert in Road Q and made arrangements for works to be carried out on the agricultural land.
- I understand that Mr X wants the Council to take enforcement action against the owner of the agricultural land in Road Q. The Council has made arrangements for the land owner to reinstate the ditch that was removed. It has asked the land owner not to do so until it can establish if the measures it has already put in place are working. This is a sensible course of action as, if the measures are not working, reinstating the ditch could make matters worse. Additionally, it has resolved to take enforcement action against the land owner for discharging water onto the adjacent land. I do not find the Council to be at fault in this matter.
- It is also claimed the Council has not kept local residents updated about what action is being taken. I note that, while there have been some meetings with local residents earlier in the process and a letter advising them of works to Road P, there have been no subsequent updates.
- Lastly Mr X says the Council did not properly answer his complaints. This is because he says the replies focused on works it had carried out to alleviate flooding other roads but not his. I do not agree. The flooding of Mr X’s road and other nearby streets has been caused by the multiple problems detailed above. For this reason, the Council’s replies detailed the work being undertaken to resolve flooding in other nearby roads as action in these locations would help alleviate flooding in his road.
- I found the Council had not updated local residents on the progress being made since it wrote to residents in August advising them of works to Road P. I recommended the Council write to residents advising them of what works have been carried out and a timescale for the future actions it has outlined in its response to my enquiries. It agreed to do so.
- I have found no evidence of fault by the Council in how is it has considered the issue of flooding in the area near Mr X’s home and therefore there are no grounds on which I can question the merits of the action it proposes to take to resolve the matter. For this reason I have ended my investigation of this complaint.
- The Ombudsman normally expects a complainant to contact them within 12 months of knowing something has happened which affects them. This applies to Mr X’s concerns about the Council’s handling of incidents of flooding which occurred prior to 2016. Mr X was aware of these matters when they happened and I consider it was open to him to approach the Ombudsman at that time. For this reason, these matters cannot be considered now.
Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman