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Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (20 002 947)

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 25 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault in how the Council introduced new parking restrictions near the complainant’s home. The Council followed the correct procedures, and so this was a decision it was entitled to make. For this reason, we have completed our investigation.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, to whom I will refer as Mr D, says the Council has introduced parking restrictions near his home, despite opposition from residents. He complains this means he must now often park his car a considerable distance from 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 reviewed Mr D’s correspondence with the Council, and the Council’s records showing the results of its consultation on the proposed parking controls, and its decision to introduce the controls.
  2. I also shared a draft copy of this decision with each party for their comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr D lives on a pedestrianised street (to which I will refer as Road 1). At the end of the street, it joins a road which is open to traffic (Road 2). Mr D and other residents have historically used Road 2 to park their cars, because it had no parking restrictions.
  2. In late 2019, the Council undertook a consultation with local residents and businesses about the introduction of parking controls on several roads in the area, including Road 2. In January 2020, the Council decided it would proceed with the introduction of the controls.
  3. This separated Road 2 into two sections – one where no parking was permitted at any time, and another where parking was not permitted for most of the daytime from Monday to Friday.
  4. Mr D contacted the Council to complain about the new restrictions. He said “95%” of local residents had objected to the restrictions, because they could not park on Road 1, and complained the Council had decided to introduce the restrictions anyway. Mr D said he now had to park up to half a mile away from home.
  5. A Council officer visited the area in mid-July. On 30 July, he emailed Mr D. The officer explained the Council had proposed the restrictions to address problems with obstructive parking, congestion and visibility. It had followed the procedure to introduce a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), including the consideration of representations from residents and businesses, and then decided to introduce the restrictions.
  6. The officer discussed additional work the Council done to improve parking facilities in the area. However, it would not support removing or amending the restrictions. The officer he would note Mr D’s objections to be considered as part of any future review.
  7. Mr D replied to contest the officer’s comments and repeat his concerns about the parking situation. The officer responded to explain Mr D could not appeal the Council’s decision, and to seek a change, he would need to gain the support of local Councillors.
  8. Mr D complained to the Ombudsman on 6 August. We referred him back to the Council at that point, as we did not consider he had completed the Council’s own complaints process.
  9. Mr D submitted another complaint to the Council on 15 September. He repeated his concerns about the new parking restrictions and that he could no longer park near home. Mr D said the introduction of the restrictions had affected him more than the Covid-19 pandemic.
  10. The Council replied on 30 September.
  11. It explained the Council must follow a set procedure when looking to introduce parking restrictions, which included consulting with Councillors, local residents and businesses, and the emergency services. Any comments received during the consultation must be recorded and considered before the Council made a final decision.
  12. The Council said, in this case, it had written to 154 local properties which it had identified as being affected, and published a Public Notice in October 2019. In response, it had received a total of eight representations, of which three related to the proposed restrictions on Road 2.
  13. The Council noted Mr D’s claim that 95% of local residents opposed the restrictions. However, it said that, of the three representations it had received about Road 2, only one was from a resident, and this had been to support the proposals. The other two representations, which had opposed the restrictions, were from local businesses.
  14. After the consultation, the Council said officers had made site visits to observe any potential issues. Their findings were presented alongside the representations the Council had received in a report to the relevant cabinet member in January 2020. The cabinet member had then approved the proposals. The Council enclosed copies of the report and the cabinet member’s minutes for Mr D’s information.
  15. The Council acknowledged Mr D’s opposition to its decision, but said it had followed the correct procedure, and so it did not uphold his complaint.

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Legislative background

  1. To introduce parking restrictions, a council must make a traffic regulation order (TRO) or traffic management order (TMO) in accordance with the Regulations made by Parliament. (Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996)

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Analysis

  1. The Ombudsman’s role is to review the Council’s adherence to procedure when making decisions. If the Council has followed the correct procedure, considered all relevant information, and given clear reasons for its decisions, we generally cannot criticise it. The Ombudsman does not provide a way for people to appeal against the Council’s decisions, and we cannot uphold a complaint simply because a person would prefer the Council to have made a different decision.
  2. In this case, I acknowledge Mr D’s reasons for opposing the introduction of parking restrictions on Road 2. He says he must now park his car much further away from home, with all the added inconvenience this brings.
  3. However, the law does not give anybody the express right to park on the public highway. It is for the local highways authority – in this case, the Council – to decide where people should be allowed to park, and when.
  4. To introduce parking restrictions, the authority must, by law, carry out a public consultation, to allow those affected to make representations. It must then consider any representations it receives.
  5. But the Council has done this here. It has explained it received only a small number of representations, with a total of three for Road 2. And, although two of these were opposed to the restrictions, the consultation was not a referendum, and the Council was still entitled to introduce restrictions if it considered this appropriate. The Council has explained clearly why it believed this to be the case, and so I am satisfied this was a decision it was entitled to take.
  6. Mr D says he and several other residents did not receive the Council’s consultation letter when it was sent. He also says he and approximately 50 other residents submitted a petition, voicing their opposition to the restrictions, which the Council has ignored.
  7. There is no way I could now meaningfully investigate Mr D’s claim about not receiving the letter. Approximately 18 months have passed since the consultation. Even if I could objectively confirm he did not receive the letter, it would be impossible to say whether this was because of an error by the Council, or by (for example) the Royal Mail.
  8. I have asked the Council to comment on Mr D’s claim that a petition was submitted, but it says it has no record of receiving any petition. Mr D has also confirmed he cannot provide a copy of the petition. Again, therefore, I cannot meaningfully investigate this point further.
  9. In any case, and to reiterate, the consultation process is not a referendum. While the Council must consider any representations it receives, it is not bound by them. The Council could still lawfully decide to introduce restrictions, even in the face of significant opposition; or, for that matter, decide not to introduce restrictions, even where there is significant local support.
  10. So, even if I could say the Council was at fault for not considering the alleged petition (which I cannot), this still would not necessarily mean the restrictions should not have been introduced.
  11. Mr D has also complained there is a gap in the yellow line denoting the restrictions outside one particular premises. He has asked the Ombudsman to investigate whether this is because the resident has some kind of connection with the Council or has paid it off.
  12. I cannot see that Mr D put this allegation to the Council as part of his complaint, which means I cannot investigate it. In any case, allegations of criminal impropriety, such as this, are a matter for the police to investigate, not the Ombudsman. I will therefore not look any further into this issue.

Summary

  1. I recognise the difficulties Mr D may be suffering from the introduction of parking restrictions. I do not seek to dismiss these.
  2. However, it is not for the Ombudsman to decide where he should be allowed to park his car. This power rests with the Council. There is a set legal procedure for the Council to follow in introducing parking restrictions, but the evidence shows the Council followed this procedure. It was therefore entitled to decide to introduce the restrictions, and I have no grounds to find fault with this.
  3. I cannot now investigate whether Mr D did not receive the consultation letter, nor whether the Council should have considered an alleged petition. Mr D’s concerns about a particular local resident have not yet been put to the Council, and in any case, are a matter for the police rather than the Ombudsman.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of no fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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