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Hertfordshire County Council (20 008 753)

Category : Transport and highways > Rights of way

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 29 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about a disputed bridleway. This is because it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome and there are other bodies better placed to consider this complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mr Y complains the Council has incorrectly signposted a bridleway over his land, misquoted his views to third parties; and delayed in responding to his complaint.
  2. Mr Y says this led to problems with his neighbours including vandalism and verbal abuse. He says he has had to pay for lawyers to defend his position, causing him and his family distress.

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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 could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint, or

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

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a government minister. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(b))
  2. The Planning Inspector acts on behalf of the responsible Government minister and considers appeals about Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMO).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided about this complaint. Mr Y had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr Y contacted the Council about a signpost for a bridleway in May 2019 incorrectly directing people over his land. The Council confirmed there was potentially an anomaly on the Definitive Map in May 2019.
  2. In January 2020, a group made a DMMO application to determine the route of the bridleway as Mr Y had closed the access to the signposted bridleway.
  3. Mr Y contacted the Council in January, complaining the Council misquoted his views to his neighbours and the parish council. Mr Y then chased the Council for a response in April. The Council said it had not provided the incorrect details Mr Y had been told about by his neighbours to any third party.
  4. The Council responded further in October. It said it had not given incorrect information to third parties but agreed the information could have been misinterpreted. It apologised for this and for the delay in responding to Mr Y. It later said it had sent letters of explanation to the Parish Council, other residents and interested parties to ensure clarity.

Analysis

  1. The application for the DMMO is ongoing. If Mr Y is unhappy with the outcome of the application, he has a right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate which is reasonable to expect him to use. Consequently, we will not investigate this complaint.
  2. The Council identified the cause of the misunderstanding and communicated with interested parties to ensure it has been resolved. It has also apologised to Mr Y for this and the delay in its response. If we were to investigate this complaint, it is unlikely we would recommend a different outcome. Consequently, we will not investigate this complaint.
  3. The upset caused to Mr Y because of verbal abuse or vandalism are potential crimes by third parties and not a direct consequence of the Council’s communication. As this relates to potential criminal actions, the police are better placed than the Ombudsman to investigate.
  4. The legal fees Mr Y has incurred are also part of a private action taken by a third party and separate from the Council. If Mr Y considers the Council liable for the payment of these costs, he would need to take the matter to court. Further, any claim Mr Y may want to make for defamation against the Council would be a matter for the courts to decide as the courts can make orders for damages if it wishes which we cannot. Consequently, the courts are better placed to deal with any such claims.

Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint as it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome and there are other bodies better placed to consider this complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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