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Norfolk County Council (18 012 708)

Category : Transport and highways > Rights of way

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 17 Jan 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains about the actions and claims the Council has made to land he owns and about the incorrect and misleading information it has made public in relation to the land. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint because part of it falls outside our jurisdiction and because there are insufficient grounds to warrant an investigation of its actions in asphalting the footpath.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr B, complains about the actions and claims the Council has made to the footpath on land he owns and about the incorrect and misleading information it has made public in relation to the land. He says this has caused him and his wife undue stress and harassment over many years.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint if someone has appealed to a tribunal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  3. The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering the complaint I spoke to Mr B and reviewed the information he and the Council provided. I gave Mr B the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and took account of the comments he made.

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What I found

  1. Mr B owns land on which a footpath lies, the surface of which the Council says it is responsible for controlling and maintaining. Over the years matters relating to the footpath and the public right of way have caused discord between Mr B and the Council, and there has been a dispute regarding the status of the right of way and the maintenance of the footpath.
  2. Mr B says because the Council has deliberately portrayed him and his wife as being un-cooperative in relation to the use and maintenance of the footpath, they have suffered abuse and harassment from some local residents.
  3. In 2017 Mr B complained about the actions of a Council employee in relation to the footpath dispute. The Council found the actions complained about were those of a resident who was employed by the Council rather than the actions of a Council employee.
  4. More recently, to support his view about damaging information the Council had put out into the public domain, Mr B made a Freedom of Information request to the Council. As he was unhappy with its response, he contacted the Information Commissioner and his appeal about this matter is due to be heard by the Information Tribunal shortly.
  5. At the end of last year Mr B complained to the Council that it had asphalted the footpath and he had not been consulted about this. The Council responded to his complaint by explaining while the subsoil of the area of footpath in question was owned by Mr B, the surface of it was controlled and maintained by the Council under the Highways Act 1980 and that it could resurface the footpath without requiring permission to do so. However, it did acknowledge it would have been courteous to have notified him of the work in advance and it apologised for this, confirming in future it would notify him of any planned work.

Assessment

  1. Matters relating to the Council’s failure to provide Mr B with the information he requested under the FOI legislation fall outside our jurisdiction and cannot be investigated because Mr B has appealed to the Information Tribunal.
  2. Mr B’s complaint from 2017 about the actions of the resident employed by the Council also fall outside our jurisdiction because it is a late complaint and there are no grounds which warrant investigation of it now.
  3. The Council has acknowledged its failure to notify Mr B about the resurfacing work. It has apologised for this and confirmed it will notify him of any future works. No further remedy would be sought by the Ombudsman if we investigated this matter.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because part of it falls outside our jurisdiction and because there are insufficient grounds to warrant an investigation of its actions in asphalting the footpath.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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