The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains about the way the Council temporarily closed footpaths in his area. Mr B uses those footpaths daily and had to find alternative routes. The Ombudsman considers there is no significant injustice to warrant his involvement and has discontinued investigation. The impact on Mr B would be the same regardless of fault.
- The complainant, who I will call Mr B, says the Council published incorrect notices to temporarily close local footpaths. The notices were not published in a way that regular walkers, like himself, saw them. The Council allowed the works to carry on after the date the notice expired, and failed to do anything about the developer starting works without the permission of the landowner. Mr B did not know the footpath was closed until he went for his normal morning walk. Mr B says he had to find alternative walks and was out of his normal routine for around five months.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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:
- the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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:
- information provided by Mr B and discussed the complaint with him.
- The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.
- The Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Procedure Regulations 1992.
- Responses from both parties to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The Council granted permission for the erection of a bridge across a brook, and alterations to, and creation of, footpaths. Mr B uses those footpaths and the original bridge daily for recreational walks.
- To enable the developer to complete the works to the footpaths the Council issued a temporary closure order (TRO). The Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Procedure Regulations 1992 requires the Council to publish notice of their intention in at least one local newspaper within the week before it makes the order. The Council did this, but as Mr B does not read the newspaper he did not know about the order until he went on his daily walk and found his normal route closed.
- The Council was required to display a notice at a prominent position at each end of the length of the footpaths the notice related to, and at the points where it will be necessary for pedestrians to diverge from the path. Each notice should be displayed throughout the period which the order is in force. The Council accepts these notices were not at the start and end of all three footpaths at the start of the closure. The Council says it ensured adequate signage when the issue was brought to its attention.
- Mr B says the notices were incorrect as they did not mention one of the footpaths. The Council accepts there was an omission in the plan, but says the order covered the full area and the correct information was in the newspaper.
- The TRO ended in March, but the works were not complete until April. It is unclear whether any formal extension to the notice was granted, or whether the footpath had no legal basis to be closed between the notice expiring and the works ending. An extension can only be granted by the Secretary of State for the Department of Transport.
- Mr B says the developer started work on the footpaths without the permission of the landowner. It started work in November, but did not have permission until January. This is not an issue for the Council, that would be an issue between the developer and landowner.
- The works to the footpath are complete, save for small sections either side of the bridge. The works to the bridge are yet to take place.
Was there fault causing injustice
- I asked Mr B how he was impacted by the issues he complains of. Mr B explains he is aggrieved that regular walkers did not receive a proper notice; there should have been sufficient notices on the paths. Mr B did not know until he went on his normal walk and got to the path closure, this was annoying. Mr B had to find alternative routes and was out of his normal routine for around five months.
- I have not made a finding on whether the issues of Mr B’s complaint were fault by the Council. The reason for this is because I consider there is little injustice to Mr B.
- Even if the Council had done everything perfectly, the outcome would be the same; the footpaths would be closed and Mr B would have to find alternative routes for that period. Footpath closures are likely to be inconvenient to the public, so are only used when necessary. In this case it was necessary to close the footpaths to complete the approved works.
- Mr B said the outcome he wants from his complaint is for the Council to learn from its mistakes, and not repeat these errors in future. The Council says lessons are always learnt. The Council has reminded all relevant parties to check plans thoroughly, to ensure they are clear to the public and consistent with the legal order. The Council has also reminded relevant parties about the need to have signage up at the correct points as soon as possible. The Council explains it might not always be possible to put up all signs on the first day if there are many signs to erect.
- I have discontinued my investigation on the basis there is no significant injustice to Mr B.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman