The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about the way the Council implemented a low traffic neighbourhood scheme in the area where he lives. The Ombudsman did not find fault by the Council.
- Mr X complained about the way the Council implemented a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in the area where he lives. He said the scheme was poorly planned by the Council and it did not consult with residents. He also said the Council failed to explain its decision and did not answer his concerns about the scheme.
- Mr X said his journey times increased because of the LTN scheme and he felt distressed the Council would not provide answers.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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)
- 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”.
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation I have considered the following:
- The complaint and the documents provided by the complainant.
- Documents provided by the Council and its comments in response to my enquiries.
- Traffic Management Act 2004: network management in response to COVID-19 (published 9 May 2020).
- Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (Section 9).
- Traffic regulation orders: guidance on the traffic orders procedure (Coronavirus) (Published 29 June 2020, withdrawn 4 May 2021).
- Mr X 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
Government guidance and legislation
- In May 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government issued statutory guidance to councils on making changes to road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.
- The Government said this was a “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to change how people made short journeys in towns and cities. The Government suggested a range of measures councils could consider to reduce motorised traffic. This could include “identifying and bringing forward schemes already planned”. It said councils should aim for measures to take effect “within weeks”.
- Government guidance said measures could be introduced on a temporary basis, including using Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs). These can be in place for 18 months and can be used to trial schemes which can later be made permanent.
- There is a seven-day notice period before making the TTRO. The emergency procedure allowed the notice to be published via digital media, for example websites, online publications, social media, and email.
- A second notice must be published within fourteen days of making the TTRO. This must be published by a local newspaper (including online). Councils were then recommended to consult residents and businesses at the design stage.
- The Government recognised these schemes will not be perfect but said councils must give them time to bed in and be tested against more normal traffic conditions so the impact can be properly evaluated.
- In November 2020, the Government updated the statutory guidance to include a section on engagement and consultation. The Government said councils should consider the impact of changes on “all road users, taking into account the need to provide for increased walking and cycling”. It said: “effective engagement with the local community, particularly at an early stage, is essential to ensuring the political and public acceptance of any scheme. The department advises engagement as good practice even where there is no legal requirement to do so for the measures being proposed”.
- The Government said trial or experimental schemes should be left in place for the full duration of the order. This will allow them to settle in and for changes in travel patterns and behaviours to become apparent so that an informed decision can be made. Adjustments may be necessary to take account of real-world feedback, but the aim should be to retain schemes and adjust, not remove them, unless there is substantial evidence to support this.
Low traffic neighbourhoods
- A low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) is a scheme which reduces the amount of motor vehicle traffic in residential streets. They are also known as modal filters, as some modes of transport are allowed through while others are not. LTNs aim to reduce air pollution, noise pollution, and road accidents while also connecting people to local amenities and benefitting local businesses.
- Traffic is reduced using temporary or permanent barriers, like bollards. Or the scheme can be enforced by cameras to identify vehicles that are not complying.
- Motor vehicles still have access to homes and businesses but not by driving directly through the neighbourhood.
- LTNs provide space for people to safely travel through an area on foot, by bike, or using public transport. Emergency services vehicles can also be prioritised to help them reach destinations quicker.
Overview and Scrutiny
- The Council’s website confirms overview and scrutiny is a way the Council’s executive (the Mayor and Cabinet), officers, and external organisations are held to account for the decisions they make.
- Scrutiny improves the quality of local policies and decisions. It allows democratically elected councillors to:
- assess the performance and delivery of services from the perspective of service users.
- hold people to account for their decisions.
- influence policy formulation and implementation.
- investigate issues of local concern and make recommendations for improvement.
- The Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel is made up of ten local councillors, including the Chair and Vice Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
- In May 2020, the Council produced an Overview and Scrutiny report titled ‘Implementation of temporary measures to support safer walking and cycling in response to the COVID 19 pandemic’.
- The Council said the report took account of the statutory guidance set out above and guidance issued by Transport for London (TfL).
- The purpose of the report was to seek comments and recommendations on the implementation of a package of temporary transport measures to support pedestrians and cyclists during the COVID 19 pandemic. The primary aim was to promote safe walking and cycling and to maintain social distancing. The Council also considered the project would support the recovery from the pandemic and met with a wider range of longer-term policy objectives.
- The report recommends:
- Creating more pedestrian space in busy public places.
- Creating quieter residential streets for walking and cycling.
- Creating safer space for pedestrians/cyclists along key corridors.
- Creating safer space for pedestrians/cyclists outside schools as pupil numbers increase.
- To introduce the measures within the timescales required, the Council intended to use TTROs which could be in place for up to 18 months.
- The Council planned to implement the measures using delegated powers, by:
- Creating the necessary traffic orders.
- Putting temporary parking suspensions in place.
- Implementing signing/lining, placement of temporary barriers, demountable bollards/gates, planters, and other temporary infrastructure.
- Enforcing the traffic orders by use of camera technology.
- The report states: “engagement undertaken to date on the Council’s COVID-19 response, has demonstrated an appetite amongst communities for some of the measures that are being developed in response to the emergency to be retained on a more permanent, non-emergency basis.”
- The report identified nine roads or locations for the scheme, chosen based on information from the highways team and a list of locations sent by a pedestrian stakeholder group.
- The report refers to a website the Council launched giving details of the proposed measures to gain public feedback on any issues and invite suggestions for further schemes.
- The Council intended to keep the measures under review and either amend or lift the measures based on feedback and results.
- I have summarised below some of the key events leading to Mr X’s complaint. This is not intended to be a detailed account of what took place.
- In 2019 the Council began consultation on how it could create ‘healthy neighbourhoods’ as part of its Transport Strategy and Local Implementation plan. This included strategies for rail, cycling, air quality, and low-emissions vehicles. The Council found “the overwhelming majority of comments were in favour of improved active and public travel provision, with a focus on reducing traffic volumes”. The majority of respondents chose Lewisham and Hither Green for a healthy neighbourhood programme, with the key themes in those areas being pollution, rat running, street trees and greening, safety, and parking.
- In May 2020, the Government proposed an emergency transport scheme fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Transport for London (TfL) secured Government funding for borough led transport measures to aid social distancing and encourage active travel (walking and cycling).
- The conditions of TfL funding meant councils had to set up new travel schemes by September 2020.
- The Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel considered proposals for the Council to impose temporary transport measures in May 2020. The Council’s Executive Director of Housing, Regeneration and Environment approved the plans on 2 June.
- The Council wrote to some local residents and businesses telling them about the scheme on 23 and 26 June 2020. The Council’s first letter described its transport response to the pandemic, which was to deliver temporary measures, including modal filters to restrict traffic. Its second letter targeted residents directly affected by the modal filters. It included a map locating the modal filters and described how the Council set up, manage, and oversee the modal filters. Both the Council’s letters gave a link to its website which provided more information about the scheme.
- The Council produced a Notice of its intent to produce a TTRO for the scheme on 29 June 2020. It published details in the local press on 10 July and the Council’s TTRO came into effect on 20 July.
- Mr X complained to the Council on 23 July about road closures linked to the LTN scheme. He said the Council had not installed diversion signs or notices explaining the road closures.
- The Council noted Mr X’s comments and asked him to use the dedicated LTN comments page on its website. It said the LTN project team considered all comments and questions received but could not necessarily respond to them all. The Council also signposted Mr X to online information about the scheme.
- Mr X said he had made a formal complaint and he wanted the Council to address it. He said his complaint was about the Council’s failure to signpost the reasons it closed particular roads, and why it did not erect prior warning or diversion signs.
- The Council repeated Mr X must make comments about road closures on the Council’s online comments page.
- Mr X expressed concern the Council did not understand he was making a formal complaint. On 17 September, Mr X wrote to the Council’s Cabinet member for transport. He said a usual ten-minute journey now takes 30 minutes, mainly caused by road closures and traffic build up at the one-way system. He said this adds to pollution. He said the one-way system is dangerous, with vehicles turning in several directions. Mr X also raised concerns about cyclists and other vehicles using the pavement in some LTN areas.
- On 21 September, Mr X asked the Council for copies of all Cabinet meeting minutes about the LTN scheme. He also asked for details of all consultation the Council undertook.
- The Council told Mr X it would not accept his complaint as he was complaining about central Government policy, which the Council’s complaints team had no authority to investigate. It again told him to make comments about the scheme online.
- The Council also said it is for the police, not the Council, to enforce traffic violations such as cyclists on the pavement.
- Mr X expressed dissatisfaction with the detail of the Council’s response. He said the officer’s manner, behaviour, and attitude are a disgrace. He said he would complain if the Council did not give detailed responses within 48 hours.
- Another officer then replied to Mr X. The officer said:
- The Council shared Mr X’s concerns with officers collating feedback on potential changes to the scheme.
- The mayor outlined public support for the LTN scheme, recognising the problems some were experiencing, and confirming the Council would look at plans to make the scheme better. The mayor said the scheme was a trial, which the Council was trying to make work for the benefit of residents.
- Further information about the background and approach to the scheme is available online. The officer also listed some of the reasons for the scheme, how it was put in place, and how the Council would keep it under review.
- The Council’s community safety teams told the police about cyclists on pavements. It is up to the police to act, but there are resourcing issues. Mr X can report any issues to Transport for London, who can liaise with the police.
- On 10 October, Mr X said he was sick and tired of the Council’s incompetence and inefficiency. He recognised the Government may have suggested road closures, but said the Council chose which roads to close. He said it was not a complaint about the Council’s policy but the way the Council set up the policy, with no warnings.
- The Council told Mr X:
- Traffic volumes increased as the Government eased lockdown restrictions.
- It wanted to preserve spaces for walking and cycling on residential streets, to help with social distancing and provide alternatives to cars.
- It therefore launched modal filters to reduce vehicle traffic on busier cut through routes in the borough.
- The mayor and Government support the plans.
- It told all homes immediately affected by the modal filters by letter.
- He could comment on the scheme online, but officers could not respond individually.
- It listens to feedback and would make changes as it could.
- It would monitor traffic levels and was aware of areas of congestion.
- Early spikes in traffic are common with new projects until people choose different routes or forms of transport.
- Mr X again asked the Council to confirm why it failed to provide warning notices or diversion signs for the road closures. He said the Council did not tell the public.
- The Council held an online public meeting on 22 October 2020 to give residents details about changes to the LTN scheme. Residents could send questions before and during the meeting. The Council’s panel for the meeting included the mayor and chief executive.
- Mr X sent questions in advance, but the Council did not specifically answer them, and did not give Mr X the chance to ask his questions at the meeting.
- Mr X wrote to the mayor on 25 October, expressing dissatisfaction with the LTN scheme, which he said increased traffic congestion and pollution. He said:
- The LTNs were ill thought out and ill-conceived.
- There was no discussion.
- There was no prior warning.
- There was no reason or explanation.
- There were no diversion signs, just large flowerpots blocking the road.
- Mr X asked the mayor to answer two questions:
- Given the measures had been twelve months in the planning, what was the rush to introduce them?
- Who provided funding for the LTNs, how much did the Council get, and was all funding received spent on LTNs?
- An officer responded on the mayor’s behalf on 26 October. The officer recognised Mr X’s concerns, explained the reasons behind the LTNs, and said the Council remained committed to them. The officer said the Council held a virtual information session on 22 October and it would share responses to questions raised shortly.
- Mr X wrote to the mayor again on 28 October, expressing disappointment the mayor did not personally reply to his letter. He said the Council had not responded to the two questions from his letter, and it was legally required to do so. He said he intended to complain.
- Mr X wrote to the Council on 29 October. He said:
- He would like the Council to give evidence more people were walking and cycling.
- He wanted the Council to clarify what it was saying about using public transport.
- The choice to walk or cycle was not available to many people.
- He would like to know what reviews the Council had undertaken now the Government had lifted some restrictions.
- The Council suggested only people with computer access could comment on the LTN scheme.
- He would like the Council to explain what measures it explored to reduce the impact of modal filters.
- Could the Council explain what discussions it had with satellite navigation providers and when.
- Mr X also made a formal complaint on 29 October. He was unhappy about the mayor not responding personally, and because the Council did not provide the information he asked for.
- An officer from the Council’s corporate complaints team responded on 30 October. The officer said the Council’s dedicated LTN team would respond to his complaint, as it was outside the remit of the corporate complaints team.
- Mr X was unhappy with the Council’s response. On 6 November, an officer from the corporate complaints team clarified why they could not consider his complaint. The officer said LTNs were a policy decision, which falls outside the corporate complaints procedure. The officer also said the corporate complaints team cannot consider complaints about councillors. The officer gave Mr X a copy of the corporate complaint procedure confirming this.
- Mr X asked if the LTN team was dealing with his complaint or if he needed to contact them direct. He also asked which department dealt with complaints against a councillor.
- The Council said it reviewed Mr X’s letters to the mayor with the LTN team. First, it said the mayor cannot reply to every email received. It said emails to the mayor receive an auto-acknowledgment which states other officers may respond.
- Second, it said a dedicated LTN team is dealing with complaints and feedback about the scheme. It noted his concerns and apologised for any upset and inconvenience caused. While it said it would process his information request, it would not progress his complaint further. It also said the LTN team would not continue to respond to matters already raised.
- Last, it raised concern about the volume of Mr X’s contact and the tone of some correspondence. It said his repeated contact does not give time and space to investigate and respond and leads to confusion. It asked him to modify his level of contact.
- The Council made changes to the LTN scheme in November 2020. Changes included:
- Replacing a physical barrier with automatic number plate recognition cameras to enforce restrictions at one location.
- Changing the layout on some roads to let cars but not heavy goods vehicles pass.
- Changing the layout of some roads to allow vehicles to travel in one direction.
- The Council held public consultation on the LTN scheme between June and August 2021.
- The Council then published a report about its review of the LTN scheme on 4 January 2022.
- The Council’s Cabinet and the mayor considered the result of the review and the future of the scheme on 12 January. The Council proposed a permanent traffic order keeping the changed version of the LTN scheme. It also proposed to replace the remaining physical modal with ANPR camera enforcement, and continued monitoring the area using traffic counts, speed surveys, air quality, and bus journey times.
- The Council told me it selected the Lewisham and Lee Green area for an LTN because of continuing concerns from residents about traffic congestion and speed, road safety, and walking and cycling improvements. The Council had also identified the area as a priority for its healthy neighbourhood plans.
- The Council said it engaged with residents about its healthy neighbourhood plans, as part of its Transport Strategy and Local Implementation Plan. However, in March 2020 TfL suspended funding for the scheme. Funding was only available for LTNs, cycle lanes, and school streets.
- I understand why officers from the Council’s corporate complains team said they could not consider Mr X’s complaint, as it related to Council policy. However, Mr X raised specific issues about the way the Council introduced the policy and whether it had done so correctly. He was not against the policy itself. The Ombudsman has considered similar complaints about LTN schemes introduced by other London boroughs and those councils have not refused to consider residents’ complaints under their corporate complaints procedure. Given the specific issues Mr X raised, the Council could have exercised discretion. However, I cannot say the Council was at fault for not doing so. In addition, I found that officers did respond to many of the points Mr X raised.
- Mr X said the scheme was poorly planned and the Council did not consult or tell residents. He also raised concerns the Council’s Cabinet did not discuss the LTN scheme before the Council set it up.
- The Council gave me a report an officer prepared before the Council set up the scheme. The report shows officers in the Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel considered and discussed the scheme before a Council executive director approved it.
- I found the Council produced a comprehensive implementation report about the LTN scheme. This included views from a residents’ group. It was also based on information from the Council’s Local Implementation Plan from 2019. That plan included views and feedback from residents and stakeholder groups on similar schemes and so was relevant. I did not see evidence of fault in the way the scheme was designed or approved.
- The Government guidance actively encouraged councils to bring forward plans they may have been considering for changing road use habits, such as introducing LTNs. It also encouraged councils to act quickly.
- At the same time the Council produced its report on the LTN scheme, it set up a webpage about its plans where residents could comment. This also served as advanced notice of the scheme. I appreciate an online only method of notice and feedback was not as inclusive as it could have been. However, the Government guidance envisaged councils giving notice via digital methods, such as their websites, due to the pandemic. I have also seen evidence the Council wrote to residents and businesses most affected by the road closures in advance. I therefore do not consider the Council was at fault.
- The Council had to set up the scheme at pace, to support recovery from COVID-19 pandemic, and to secure relevant funding.
- In its early advice on introducing schemes in response to the pandemic, the Government did not require councils to undertake extensive consultation. It only offered any advice on consultation from November 2020. It also actively encouraged the use of TTROs. By their nature, TTROs do not require extensive consultation before implementation. Instead, the emphasis is on consultation after introducing a TTRO.
- The Council has demonstrated it carried out the necessary publicity for the TTROs it used. This included details of the affected locations and roads. It has also evidenced it placed signs at the approach to the relevant streets.
- I have not seen evidence of any requirement for the Council to put diversion signs in place.
- The Council engaged in ongoing public consultation once the scheme was in place. It held a public information session in October 2020, and then again from June to August 2021. It also made changes to the scheme following public feedback.
- While I do not dismiss Mr X’s concerns about the scheme or the disruption it caused, I have not seen evidence of fault by the Council.
- I have completed my investigation. The Ombudsman did not find fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman