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Suffolk County Council (17 015 228)

Category : Transport and highways > Rights of way

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Feb 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint about the Council’s decisions that a footpath is in an acceptable condition and that Mr B must report any future concerns in writing only. Further consideration of the complaint is unlikely to find fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr B, says the Council has failed to ensure the track leading to his home remains accessible and in good repair. Mr B also complains the Council has now told him he can only make new reports about the condition of the track in writing rather than by telephone.

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information Mr B provided with his complaint and the Council’s letter to him of 19 December 2017. I considered the previous complaints Mr B has raised with the Ombudsman and sent a draft decision to Mr B to invite comments. I have also discussed this complaint with Mr B.

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What I found

  1. Mr B’s home is accessed by an unmade track that serves other residential properties and a farm. There is a public right of way along the track. The public right of way is as a footpath.
  2. Mr B says the landowner has ploughed the edges of the track, deliberately damaged the drainage to ensure the track floods and failed to repair large potholes. Mr B complains the Council has failed to act to make the landowner bring the track back to an acceptable condition. Mr B says large vehicles can no longer access his property and the track is unsuitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
  3. The Ombudsman has considered three previous complaints from Mr B about the maintenance of the track and the Council’s responses to his reports of damage. The Ombudsman has previously decided there was no fault by the Council about the condition of the track because it had:
    • explained the public right of way it has a duty to maintain is limited to walkers using the track as a footpath, not motor vehicles
    • carried out inspections in response to Mr B’s complaints and explained it was satisfied the footpath was accessible for walkers
    • provided Mr B with advice that some of his issues with his neighbour and the condition of the track relate to private land rights the Council has no power to resolve or intervene in
    • discussed the matter with Mr B’s neighbour and secured repairs where they were needed
    • agreed to monitor the condition of the public footpath
  4. The Ombudsman will not reconsider complaints he has previously considered and decided.
  5. The Council carries out inspections every three months. An officer last inspected in December 2017 and wrote to Mr B to say they were satisfied with the condition of the public footpath and its width as a public footpath. The Council reminded Mr B it cannot comment on his concerns about the condition of the track for vehicular access.
  6. While Mr B remains unhappy with the condition of the track and says the Council has failed to carry out its duties to ensure the landowner maintains it, we will not investigate this complaint. Further consideration of the complaint is unlikely to find fault with the way the Council has made its decision. It has decided the public footpath is in an acceptable condition after carrying out a site visit and has explained its reasons to Mr B. The Council has confirmed it will continue to monitor the public footpath every three months.
  7. Mr B also complains Council has now told him he can only raise new reports about the condition of the public footpath in writing, rather than by telephone or email. The Council has explained this is because Mr B has raised many reports by email and telephone and these can take a considerable amount of time to deal with because of the information Mr B provides about the dispute with his neighbour.
  8. Further consideration of this complaint is unlikely to find fault by the Council. Mr B can still raise new concerns about the condition of the public footpath and its accessibility for walkers, if these arise between the three-monthly inspections. The Council has confirmed it will respond if necessary.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because further consideration of the complaint is unlikely to find fault by the Council.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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