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Staffordshire County Council (20 012 641)

Category : Transport and highways > Rights of way

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 24 Feb 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council is failing to uphold legal rights of way for pedestrian use only over a footpath by his property. We will not investigate the complaint because there is no evidence of fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr X, says the Council is failing to uphold legal rights of way for pedestrian use only over a footpath by his property. He says the police are not carrying out their proper duties in relation to vehicle use on the footpath and are blaming the Council and that the land is being churned up and damaged by the vehicle use.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. We cannot investigate the actions of bodies such as the police. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 25 and 34A, as amended)
  2. 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
  • 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. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. 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.

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What I found

  1. Mr X complained to the Council about neighbours driving their vehicles over the footpath by his property. The Council advised him to seek legal advice and his solicitors confirmed to him that the neighbours had no legal right to use the footpath other than as pedestrians.
  2. When Mr X went back to the Council it advised him that section 34(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 says that anyone driving a mechanically propelled vehicle without lawful authority on a road that is a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway is guilty of an offence. It said lawful authority could be shown if the defendant could show a private right in place for people to use the path to gain vehicular access to their property or land and that it was for the defendant to prove this.
  3. The Council advised Mr X that it is the police, and not the County Council, who have the enforcing powers if someone drives along a footpath without lawful authority, or if someone parks on a right of way and obstructs lawful access. As this is the case, the Council offered to contact the police on Mr X’s behalf.
  4. Having received Mr X’s permission to do so, the Council contacted the police and reported back to him that the police had said in their view it was a civil matter and had previously told Mr X this. The Council officer dealing with the case told Mr X he had said to the police that it was his understanding if someone did drive along the footpath without a private right of access then the police had powers to take action. The Council concluded by stating it could not help Mr X further with the matter and suggested he contact the police if he felt someone was doing something illegal.
  5. Dissatisfied with the response from the Council, Mr X complained to us.

Assessment

  1. The County Council has correctly explained to Mr X that the body with enforcing powers is the police and not the County Council. The Council contacted the police on his behalf but there is no further action it can take and it referred him back to the police.
  2. The police do not fall within our jurisdiction and so by law we cannot look at complaints made against this body.
  3. It is open to Mr X to seek legal advice in relation to taking civil action against those using vehicles on the footpath.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is no evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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