Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 03 Mar 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains about the Council’s handling of matters related to the recording of a footpath in the Definitive Map. We will not investigate the complaint because it falls outside our jurisdiction as the Planning Inspectorate is the body charged with determining its route.
- The complainant, who I refer to as Mr X, complains about the Council’s handling of matters relating to a footpath which has been wrongly recorded in the Definitive Map and which negatively affects his land. He says the Council has not accepted the evidence he has provided and the matter has been outstanding since 2014.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- 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))
- The Planning Inspector acts on behalf of the responsible Government minister.
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- In considering the complaint I reviewed the information provided by Mr X and the Council. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- A member of the public can ask for a Modification Order to the Definitive Map (the legal record of the public’s rights of way), if he or she believes a footpath or other right of way is shown on the wrong place on the map.
- In 2014 Mr X made an application to the Council for a Definitive Map Modification Order to effect a change to a footpath, the use of which negatively impacts on his property.
- The Council’s prioritising of applications, and its limited resources, meant the application continued to remain outstanding up to 2019. At this time it told Mr X it would not be making a decision on his application until 2035.
- Unhappy with this timescale, Mr X took his case to the Planning Inspectorate and it asked the Council to determine his application within the next 6 months.
- The Council acted on this direction and in January 2020 it made its decision that the footpath had been recorded incorrectly, although it did not agree with Mr X’s view of the historic route of it.
- In November 2020 the proposed Order recording the Council’s decision and the associated notices were sent to its Legal Services for sealing, dating and advertising. The Council advised Mr X, and all other interested parties, of this. In accordance with normal procedures, if, on publication of the proposed Order, there are no objections to it, the changes to the footpath will be added to the Map. However, if there are objections and the Order is opposed, the Council must submit the Order to the Planning Inspectorate for it to make the decision on it.
- The restriction highlighted at paragraph 3 applies to Mr X’s complaint. Once the Order is publicised and he opposes it then it will go to the Planning Inspectorate for determination. As this is the case, Mr X’s complaint falls outside our jurisdiction and will not be investigated.
- Mr X has clearly waited a long time for a decision on the application he submitted in 2014. However, delay by the Council in dealing with it prior to 2020 also falls outside our jurisdiction due to the restriction highlighted at paragraph 5 relating to the passage of time and I see no grounds which warrant exercising discretion to investigate them now.
- Mr X has referred to our role in investigating maladministration and the various examples of this his case provides, along with the hundreds of documents he has to support his case. However, it is for the Planning Inspectorate to assess any objections Mr X makes against the Order, and any documents he submits in support of his objections.
- Mr X has also referred to possible slander and libel but such matters would be for the courts and not the Ombudsman to determine.
- We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it falls outside our jurisdiction as the Planning Inspectorate is the body charged with determining the route of the footpath.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman