Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 09 Aug 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms B complained the Council had not followed Government guidance when deciding on speed limits generally and in particular in the village where she lives. She said that as a result vehicles travel at high speeds in the village which is dangerous. This is particularly the case on the stretches of road where there are no pavements. There was no fault by the Council.
- I call the complainant Ms B. She complained the Council had not followed Government guidance when deciding on speed limits generally and in particular in the village where she lives. She said that as a result vehicles travel at high speeds in the village which is dangerous. This is particularly the case on the stretches of road where there are no pavements.
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)
- We cannot investigate something that affects all or most of the people in a council’s area. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(7), as amended)
- 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.
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the complaint and documents provided by Ms B and spoke to her I asked the Council to comment on the complaint and provide information. I sent a draft of this statement to Ms B and the Council and considered their comments.
What I found
Summary of the relevant legal framework, guidance and good practice
- Government guidance (Department for Transport Circular 01/201) says that traffic authorities set local speed limits in situations where local needs and conditions suggest a speed limit which is lower than the national speed limit. The guidance is to be used for setting all local speed limits on single and dual carriageway roads in both urban and rural areas.
- This guidance should also be used as the basis for assessments of local speed limits. It says that it is government policy that a 30 mph speed limit should be the norm in villages. The guidance says that this applies where there are 20 or more houses (on one or both sides of the road) - and a minimum length of 600 metres.
- The village where Ms B lives consists of three areas of housing and amenities. The settlement areas are separated by main roads with speed limits of 30, 40 and 50mph on the different sections and there are pavements only in some parts.
- Ms B complained to the Council in June 2020. She complained not just about the specific issue about the speed limits and pavements in the village but also wider concerns about the Council’s spending priorities for highway improvements.
- Ms B complained about how the Council decided on some of its spending priorities and that it had not provided the information she had requested. How the Council decides its spending priorities is something that affects most of the inhabitants of the Council’s area and is not, therefore, something we can consider. If Ms B considers the Council has not provided the information she asked for then this would be a matter that can be referred to the Information Commissioner. That was mentioned in some of the correspondence from the Council but not followed up by the Council or Ms B.
- The Council has its own speed limit policy. It consulted on the draft of the policy in 2015 and the final policy was approved in September 2015. The report on the application detailed the consultation responses and the Council addressed the points raised. The policy does differ from the Government guidance but that is not inherently wrong. I consider the Council properly considered the policy and demonstrated the reasons for its approach. The Council is, therefore, entitled to rely on the policy when setting speed limits.
- In terms of the village where Ms B lives the speed limits are higher than the default limit. A higher limit was in place and was confirmed in one Consolidation Order in 2015. The Council does not have the detail of how the higher speed limits were originally assessed but as that is so long ago it is not fault. The Council reviewed speed limits on one stretch of road near to where Ms B lives and is introducing a lower limit. It is also going to review the speed limit where Ms B lives. That will be assessed against the current policy.
- In summary there is no evidence of fault in how the speed limits have been set in the area where Ms B lives.
- Subject to further comments by Ms B and the Council, I intend to find there was no fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman