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West Sussex County Council (20 003 540)

Category : Transport and highways > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 14 Apr 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s decision to refuse his application for a second vehicle crossover at his home. He said it also refused to consider his complaint under its complaint’s procedure. The Council was not at fault for refusing Mr X’s application for a second vehicle crossover. It should have considered his complaint under its complaint’s procedure, but this fault did not cause Mr X a significant injustice as it directed him to us and we have investigated his complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains about the Council’s decision to refuse his application for a second vehicle crossover (VCO) at his home. He says he has provided evidence within the application that resolved the issues that led to a previous refusal, but the Council has not appropriately considered the new information.
  2. He also complains the Council delayed processing his application and did not provide an adequate complaints or appeals process.
  3. He wants the Council to grant him a licence for a second VCO at his home.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read Mr X’s complaint and spoke with him about it on the phone.
  2. I made enquiries of the Council and considered information it sent me.
  3. Mr X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on the draft decision. In response to Mr X’s comments, I requested further information from the Council. I considered this information before making a final decision.

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What I found

Background information

  1. The Council has guidance for those applying for a licence for a second vehicle access crossover at their property. The guidance says:
  • “Separate entrance and exit

In order to maintain as much on-street parking as possible, a second access in urban and sub-urban areas (this includes access from an adjacent road at the side or back of the property) is highly likely to be refused unless significant safety or community benefit can be identified (unless existing parking restrictions mean no loss of on street parking will result).

  • Distance from road junctions

If the location of the proposed crossing is closer than 10m to a road junction it would create a serious hazard and the application will be refused. This dimension may be increased to 15m on major roads or near busy junctions.

  • Refusal

The Council’s decision as to whether the application will be approved or refused is final. An appeal will not be considered due to parking conditions in your area or where you feel that an access that has already been built in your road or elsewhere does not comply with the current criteria for approval and should not have been approved. The presence of other historic substandard accesses cannot be accepted as mitigation. “

What happened

  1. Mr X first applied for a second vehicle crossover in early 2019. The Council refused the application on the grounds that Mr X already had vehicle access at the rear of his property and allowing a second access would lead to an unacceptable loss of on-street parking.
  2. Mr X was dissatisfied with this decision and brought it to us.
  3. During our investigation into his complaint, Mr X submitted a second VCO application to the Council in December 2019. The application proposed a different crossover point to the first application. Mr X said the proposed new location resolved the issues given for the refusal of his first application. He said there would be minimal loss of on-street parking and others locally had already been granted similar second vehicle crossovers.
  4. We completed our investigation but did not uphold Mr X’s complaint. We issued a final decision statement in February 2020.
  5. In March 2020, the Council considered Mr X’s second VCO application. It apologised to him for the delay but said it had been awaiting the outcome of our investigation before assessing the second application. It refused the second application on same grounds as the first, that a second vehicle crossover at Mr X’s property would lead to an unacceptable loss of on-street parking.
  6. Mr X asked the Council to review the application. It did this, but it did not change its decision. Mr X submitted a formal complaint and asked the Council to consider it under its corporate complaint’s procedure.
  7. The Council initially accepted his complaint, but then told him it no longer considered complaints about VCO decisions under its complaint’s procedure. It said the Council had made its decision clear and if Mr X remained dissatisfied, he should bring his complaint to us.
  8. Mr X brought his complaint to us in August 2020. He said he had provided evidence to the Council of how this application met the guidelines and resolved issues that had led to the refusal of his first application. He said it was wrong that when he asked for a review, the review was completed by the same officer that made the original decision. The Council had then failed to allow him an adequate complaints or appeals process and instead directed him straight to us.

My Investigation

  1. In its response to my enquiries, the Council said it had refused his application in line with its guidance, as allowing Mr X a second access would reduce local on-street parking. It said in making its decision, it had to consider the needs of current and future residents who may need to park their vehicle on a street. Although Mr X’s application referred to another approved VCO application near him, the guidance is clear that it will not take historic decisions or local parking conditions into account.
  2. It said the decision was reviewed by three levels of management including the Head of Highway Operations. All agreed the application should be refused because of the implications for on-street parking.
  3. It said the Council’s policy on how it reviewed VCO decisions was due to change but had not changed yet. It accepted it should have considered his complaint under its corporate complaints policy when Mr X requested this. It said it had considered other VCO complaints before and after Mr X’s complaint appropriately under the policy.

My findings

  1. When Mr X submitted his second VCO application, we were already investigating the Council’s decision to refuse the first application. The outcome of this investigation could have led to us asking the Council to reconsider the first application. Although awaiting our decision did cause a delay, the Council acted appropriately by explaining the reason for the delay in the decision letter and apologising to Mr X for it. As the two applications were inextricably linked, the Council was not at fault for awaiting our final decision before determining the second application.
  2. If approved, Mr X’s application would have granted a second vehicular access at his property. The Council’s policy says it is highly likely to refuse a second access unless it identified a “significant safety or community benefit”. It considered whether this applied to Mr X’s application and decided it did not. It also decided that any reduction in kerbline would inevitably reduce on-street parking and so should be refused.
  3. Although Mr X says other similar requests have been approved, the Council’s policy is clear that it will not take historic decisions into account. There was no fault in how the Council considered Mr X’s application and made its decision, so I cannot question the decision made.
  4. The Council’s area manager reviewed the decision. Council guidance does not say the review must be completed by a person independent of the original decision and an area manager is an appropriate officer to complete a review. This was not fault.
  5. The Council refused to consider his complaint under its complaints policy and instead directed him straight to us. This was fault. The Council has accepted it was wrong to do this but says it has considered other VCO complaints under its complaint’s procedure prior to and since Mr X’s complaint. Mr X did bring his complaint to us, we have investigated it and found no fault in the way the Council made its decision. As we have investigated Mr X’s complaint, I cannot say this fault caused Mr X a significant injustice.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have found fault, but the fault identified did not cause Mr X a significant injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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