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East Sussex County Council (18 014 668)

Category : Transport and highways > Rights of way

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Feb 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s estimated timescale for dealing with his Definitive Map Modification Order applications. It is unlikely we would find fault causing Mr X significant injustice and if Mr X disputes the estimate provided by the Council he should put his concerns to the Planning Inspector dealing with the case.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains the Council has provided estimates to the Planning Inspectorate of the time it will take to process several of his applications for Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMOs) which are unrealistic.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mr X’s complaint, made enquiries of the Council and considered its response. I shared my draft decision with Mr X and invited his comments.

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What I found

  1. Any member of the public may apply to their local highway authority for a DMMO if they think a public right of way is not recorded on the authority’s Definitive Map or if it is shown incorrectly or should no longer be recorded. The process for confirming a public right of way exists and adding it to the Definitive Map is complex, lengthy and time-consuming.
  2. A local highway authority has 12 months to determine applications for DMMOs and if it does not meet this deadline the applicant may approach the Planning Inspectorate, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, to consider the matter. The Planning Inspectorate will establish the reasons for the delay and can direct the Council to determine the issue within a set timescale.
  3. Mr X has made numerous DMMO applications to the Council over the past few years. He has applied to the Planning Inspectorate to make directions on nine of these applications as the Council has failed to determine them in-time. Mr X’s complaint concerns the Council’s statement to the Planning Inspectorate about its estimated timescale for determining the applications, which Mr X says is unrealistic.
  4. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. The Council can only provide the Planning Inspectorate with an ‘estimate’ of the time it will take to deal with his applications. It is for the Planning Inspectorate to consider its response and issue any direction as to how quickly the Council must determine the applications. If Mr X believes the information the Council has provided is wrong, he should raise this with the Inspector dealing with the case.
  5. Even if the Council does take longer than it has estimated to deal with Mr X’s applications this is not evidence of fault in its estimate. The statement also causes Mr X no significant injustice as the Planning Inspector could direct the Council to decide the applications sooner. If they decide to allow more time this is likely a reflection of the complexity of the case and it is not for us to say this is wrong.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council causing Mr X significant injustice and the Planning Inspectorate is better placed to consider Mr X’s concerns.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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