Oxfordshire County Council (21 007 826)

Category : Transport and highways > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 23 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the closure of a road to motorists. There is not enough evidence of fault in the process followed by the Council leading to the decision to make a Permanent Traffic Order. Nor can we achieve the result the complainant is seeking.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, I shall call Mr X, says the Council’s consultation to make a temporary road closure permanent was flawed.
  2. He says the closure has caused inconvenience for motorists and he is concerned about local democracy.
  3. Mr X wants the road reopened.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. In May 2020, the Department for Transport announced that it had assigned 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…”

  1. To make a Permanent Traffic Order the Council must:
    • consult the Police and Emergency Services
    • seek the views of the appropriate County Councillor and district and parish councils
    • place at least one notice in the local press and erect a site notice

What Happened

  1. A national cycling charity completed a review of the National Cycle Network which led to a public report in 2018. In this report the road, which is now subject to the closure to traffic road in the Council’s area, was identified as a very poor section of the National Cycle Network. The charity secured funding from the Government to make the road safer for walking and cycling.
  2. The Council introduced a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) which closed a road near Mr X’s home to motorists. The order was to last 18 months. After some months the Council decided that to make use of the Government funding it would make the TTRO permanent
  3. An Officer wrote a report on the scheme for the relevant Council Cabinet Member. The report confirms the Council:
    • Placed a notice in the local newspaper
    • consulted the Police, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Ambulance Service, local district and parish councils and the local county councillor
    • public notices were placed at the site; and
    • letters were sent to roughly 409 properties close to the road.
  4. The report states more than 220 responses were received from the public including residents, the British Horse Society, cycling organisations, local businesses, and farmers. Full copies of the responses were appended to the report.
  5. After considering the report the Council decided to approve the recommendation and made the closure to traffic permanent.
  6. Despite Mr X’s concerns about local democracy, I have seen no evidence to suggest the Council failed to follow the correct procedure to close the road to traffic on a permanent basis.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. There is insufficient evidence of fault in the procedure followed by the Council to make the permanent traffic order. Nor can we achieve the outcome Mr X is seeking which is reopening the road.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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