Cornwall Council (20 010 364)

Category : Transport and highways > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 11 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains about the Council’s decision to close the high street where he lives to traffic. We will not investigate this complaint as we are unlikely to find fault in the Council’s actions. Further investigation is unlikely to lead to a different outcome and we cannot achieve the outcome Mr X is seeking.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Mr X, says the Council closed the high street where he lives to all traffic except buses, taxis and bikes without consultation.
  2. Mr X has a Blue Badge and uses the disabled bays in the high street to get to essential services such as the chemist, bank, and optician. The road is now closed most of the day to traffic so he cannot use the disabled parking spaces.
  3. He wants the road to be returned to its previous use immediately.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19”.
  2. 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
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • the information provided by Mr X and the Council
    • relevant law and guidance as referred to below
    • Mr X’s comments on the draft version of this decision

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What I found

  1. In May 2020, the Department for Transport announced that it had allocated money to councils in response to COVID-19 to fund ‘Emergency Active Travel Measures’. It described these as measures designed “to make it easier for people to choose alternatives to public transport, a series of measures are being rolled out to encourage more people to cycle instead […] to create pop up and permanent cycle lanes and reallocate road space”:
  2. The Government issued guidance in traffic management in response to COVID -19. In the foreword to the guidance the Secretary of State for Transport says:

“The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel. I’m pleased to see that many authorities have already begun to do this, and I urge you all to consider how you can begin to make use of the tools in this guidance, to make sure you do what is necessary to ensure transport networks support recovery from the COVID-19 emergency and provide a lasting legacy of greener, safer transport.”

  1. The Government guidance also includes examples of measures that local authorities can introduce to reallocate road space. These include:

“Introducing pedestrian and cycle zones: restricting access for motor vehicles at certain times (or at all times) to specific streets, or networks of streets, particularly town centres and high streets. This will enable active travel but also social distancing in places where people are likely to gather.”

  1. Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs) are used to trial schemes that may then be made permanent. Authorities must put in place monitoring arrangements and carry out ongoing consultation.
  2. A council can make an experimental order using powers under sections 9 and 10 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. To do this, it must comply with the Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996).
  3. The law does not require councils to consult before making an ETRO. The purpose of such orders is to assess how a scheme will work before making it permanent.
  4. An ETRO can only be in force for 18 months. If a council wishes to make it permanent, it must make a new order and consider any objections it received within the first six months of the experimental traffic order.
  5. The Council says it introduced traffic restrictions on the high street between 11am and 4pm to reduce traffic and increase space to allow safe movement. It says this is in response to COVID-19 requirements and in response to calls for pedestrianisation following the neighbourhood plan consultation.
  6. Blue Badge parking is allowed outside of the restricted times. The Council says it has contacted with service providers such as the dentist and optician in the high street, asking them to prioritise appointments for Blue Badge holders outside the restricted times.
  7. It also says it is working with local disability charities to identify measures it can put in place to mitigate the impact on disabled people. It says it will increase Blue Badge parking spaces in the car park, install a ramp to access the high street and implement a shopmobility scheme.
  8. The Council confirms Mr X’s complaint has been logged as a response to the consultation on the scheme.
  9. Mr X says the Council did not consult the town residents before deciding to implement the ETRO. However, as explained above, the law does not require the Council to consult. The purpose of such orders is to assess how the scheme will work before making it permanent.
  10. The ETRO can only be in force for 18 months. If the Council wants to make it permanent, it must make a new order and consider any objections it received within the first 6 months of the ETRO.
  11. Mr X can raise his objections to the scheme with the Council. It must then consider whether to make the scheme permanent. The Council is also liaising with local charities to mitigate the impact of the ETRO on those with specific health conditions or disabilities.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate this complaint. It is unlikely we will find fault in the way the Council introduced the ETRO. Nor is further investigation likely to lead to a different outcome. And we cannot require the Council to remove the ETRO immediately.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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