Manchester City Council (21 007 275)

Category : Transport and highways > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 21 Oct 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s decision to close a lane on a road close to the complainant’s home. There is not enough evidence of fault in the Councils actions to warrant an investigation.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, I shall call Mr X, complains the Council closed a lane on a 2-lane road near to where he lives. He says this prevented emergency vehicles getting through.
  2. Mr X says the closure cost the Council £42,000 and he wants to know who put this in place.

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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. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating
  • any injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint

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

  1. The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). So, where we receive complaints about freedom of information, we normally consider it reasonable to expect the person to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council, including his complaints and the responses.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. The 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act allows local councils which are highway authorities to issue Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTRO’s). These can, for example, be used to shut or restrict roads or lanes to vehicular traffic, for example to allow for social distancing. They can last for a maximum of 18 months.
  2. The Government passed a Statutory Instrument which allowed councils to use the Act to issue TTROs “for purposes connected to coronavirus”. The Instrument gave councils specific instructions on how they should publicise and explain the use of such TTROs. The Government also advised the TTROs could be used for a range of purposes ‘connected to coronavirus’ including “restricting certain roads to certain types of traffic”.
  3. The law only required the Council to give seven days’ notice of the TTRO. It did not require it to consult or reconsider if it received objections.
  4. In June and July 2020, the Council made several TTROs introducing different changes to the road layout. This included closing a lane on a dual carriageway near to Mr X’s home, suspending a bus lane and prohibiting loading or waiting. The TTROs would run for a maximum 18 months. The reasons given for the temporary changes were to allow for social distancing.
  5. The Council confirms that no deaths were reported due to delays in emergency vehicles access. It also confirms it received a grant from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority for the work.
  6. I understand Mr X was concerned about the changes and the impact on traffic. However, I do not consider that he suffered significant personal injustice because of the changes to the road layout.
  7. Mr X says the Council has not told him who was responsible for the TTROs. It is reasonable to expect him to refer this point to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). That is because this is the body with specific powers and expertise to look into conformity with the Freedom of Information Act. The ICO has powers which we do not have to require compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. The Council is not required to consult the public before issuing TTROs and there is not enough evidence of fault in the Council’s actions to warrant an investigation. Nor to do consider Mr X has suffered any significant personal injustice.
  2. Finally, Mr X can approach the ICO if he believes the Council is withholding information.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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