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Lincolnshire County Council (17 015 169)

Category : Transport and highways > Rights of way

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 30 Jan 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s actions to remove his advertising signs from the public highway. The Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault on the Council’s part which has caused injustice to Mr X.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about the Council removing his advertising signs from the pavement outside his business premises. He says the Council acted in a discriminatory way because of his race and that other obstructions nearby were not removed.

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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. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered all the information which Mr X submitted with his complaint. I have also considered the Council’s response and Mr X has commented on the draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X says the Council removed advertising signs from the pavement outside his business. On the occasion there was a police officer in attendance. He says the Council took this action because of his race. He says other obstructions to the highway such as nearby scaffolding have not been removed by the Council.
  2. The Council says it took action against Mr X following a report from the local police and complaints from members of the public about obstruction to the footway. The signs were close to a pedestrian crossing which increased the hazard. Councils have a duty as highway authorities to remove obstructions from the public highway. Advertising boards pose a particular problem to disabled and visually impaired members of the public and are frequently removed because of this.
  3. The Council contacted Mr X and instructed him to remove the obstructions. When it received further complaints it took action to remove them. It says police accompanied the officers taking action because an exercise was taking part in the vicinity at the time. Mr X later complained about discrimination. He says no action was taken against other businesses who also had signs on the pavement. He also says a power utility company had scaffolding over the pavement for some considerable time.
  4. The Council says the scaffolding was subject to a permit to work on the highway but his signs had no permission and breached highway legislation. It says other businesses were warned about signs on the highway but Mr X’s posed a particular hazard and had been subject to complaints by the public.
  5. Mr X does not deny his signs were on the public highway and that he was asked to remove them but did not do so. The Council was carrying out its duty to highway users including disabled persons who could suffer injury from the signs.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault on the Council’s part which has caused injustice to Mr X.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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