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Hertfordshire County Council (21 004 007)

Category : Transport and highways > Street furniture and lighting

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 28 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council erected a streetlamp directly outside his house without notice or consultation. He said the streetlamp spoilt his view and shone light directly into his house. Mr X also complained about the way the Council handled his complaint about the matter. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council erected a streetlamp directly outside his house without notice or consultation. He said the streetlamp spoilt his view and shone light directly into his house. Mr X also complained about the way the Council handled his complaint about the matter. Mr X said this caused him to lose the enjoyment of his home and caused him frustration by its poor complaint handling.

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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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)
  4. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the documents provided by Mr X and discussed the complaint with him on the telephone.
  2. I read the documents provided by the Council in response to my enquiries.
  3. I considered the British Standard 5489 code of practice for the design of road lighting.
  4. Mr X and the Council 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

The legislation

  1. The Highways Act 1980 states the highway authority, in this case, the Council, can construct and maintain lamps, posts and other works they consider necessary for the purpose of the highway.
  2. British Standards Institute is recognised as the national standard body for the general principles of road lighting. British Standard (BS) 5489 is the code of practice for the design of road lighting. Councils should meet these standards when installing new street lighting. The standards state road lighting equipment should be as unobtrusive as possible, and precautions should be taken to avoid unnecessary light intrusion into adjacent properties. It states the safety of users should take precedence over aesthetics if there is a conflict.
  3. BS 5489 states lighting design is a complex task with many parameters to consider. Considerations should include the health and safety of users, maintenance of the lighting and electrical energy costs. Therefore, the guidance states before finalising lamppost locations a ‘competent person’ should verify the designed location is suitable. It defines a competent person as someone with the relevant training and experience.
  4. The Institute of Lighting Professionals has introduced specific guidance notes for reducing obtrusive light (ILP guidance notes). These recommend light limits dependent on the residential setting but are for guidance only. It recommends light intrusion into windows in a suburban area should not be more than 10 lux before midnight and 2 lux after. The guidance also recommends various other ways of reducing light intrusion such as using shields and baffles.

What happened

  1. Mr X’s house has a lane behind it. Mr X’s property is elevated above the height of the lane. The portion of the lane behind Mr X’s property is narrow and has no footpath. There are houses on one side of the lane and on the other side is a local nature reserve.
  2. In 2018 the Council granted planning permission for the development of a secondary school in the local area of Mr X’s property. As part of the development the Council needed to develop a lighting plan to provide safer routes to school for children walking or cycling. This included the lane behind Mr X’s house.
  3. The Council instructed a Contractor to design the lighting plan and in November 2020 the contractor provided its recommendations. It provided a lighting and electrical street lighting design plan and a roadway lighting report. The report set out the type of lampposts, lamps and positioning according to the required lighting levels for the class of road. One lamppost was in line with the boundary between Mr X’s and his neighbour’s properties but on the opposite side of the lane.
  4. The Council stated its Development Management Team considered the Contractor’s design and agreed it was suitable. The Council commissioned the Contractor to complete the work according to the designed plan.
  5. In March 2021 Mr X complained to the Council about the lamppost behind his house. He stated the lamp would shine light in his house, and the lamppost was not in keeping with the area. Mr X also complained there had been no consultation about the lighting and the Contractor had destroyed a holly tree in a protected hedgerow.
  6. The Council asked the Contractor to respond to Mr X’s complaint. The Contractor wrote to Mr X and explained the lighting plan provided the light levels in line with BS 5489. It said it aimed to position the lampposts in line with property boundaries and it could not move the lamppost and still meet the British Standards regulations. It stated it consulted with residents who would be affected by the installation work. It said there was no protection order or conservation measure in place for the hedge. It stated when it had installed the lamp, if it affected Mr X’s house, it had measures it could use to reduce the impact of the light.
  7. Mr X was dissatisfied with the Contractor’s response and complained to the Council at stage 2 of its complaint procedure. He stated:
    • the Contractor had been misleading as British Standards were not legislation and the Council should not rely on them as such;
    • the Council could place the lamppost at the other boundary of his property and provide better illumination on the lane, and less impact on his property; and
    • the Contractor did not consult him before installing the lampposts.
  8. In April the Council commissioned the Contractor to complete an outdoor lighting report because of Mr X’s complaint. The report found the lighting levels were slightly higher than those needed for the class of road according to BS 5489. The Council stated its Technical Advisers, who had not been involved in the design of the scheme reviewed the design. The Council decided the design was in line with BS 5489.
  9. The Council visited Mr X’s property, viewed the lamppost and hedge from within his property and discussed the complaint with him.
  10. Mr X provided the Council with his own design plan for the lampposts on the lane. The Council stated the Street Lighting Technical Advisers considered the design. They found Mr X’s plan would slightly exceed the lighting criteria and would go against the Council’s aim to reduce energy consumption. The Council estimated the extra cost of implementing Mr X’s plan to be over £8,000.
  11. In May the Council responded to Mr X and said the lamppost:
    • was in line with a property boundary which it considered to be the least obtrusive placement;
    • was the standard design as it was not a conservation area;
    • could not be moved and keep the light levels specified by BS 5489; and
    • could be altered to reduce the impact of the light on Mr X’s house.

It also stated:

    • there was no justification for funding the lighting plan Mr X had presented;
    • there was no obligation to consult Mr X before the lamppost was installed;
    • the Contractor had not tried to misrepresent the legal status of British Standards in its complaint response; and
    • the removal of a section of hedge was necessary for the Contractor to complete the work. It said it would replant the hedge.
  1. Mr X responded to the Council and stated the light had a shield in place designed to reduce the light in his house and this was causing more glare. The Council said it would reduce the height of the lamppost and apply a weathering treatment to the post to reduce the glare.
  2. Dissatisfied with the Council’s response Mr X complained to us in June 2021.
  3. In response to my enquiries the Council said it had not measured the light levels falling on Mr X’s house. It said Mr X had not agreed to it completing the mitigating measures on the lamppost. It stated it would be premature to measure the light levels without the mitigating factors in place. As well as the measures outlined in paragraph 25 the Council stated it could set the lamp at a zero-degree tilt. The Council confirmed it replanted the holly hedge in November 2021.

My findings

  1. The Council must construct and maintain lampposts as needed for roads in its area. The legislation and code of practice do not say the Council must consult residents on either the design or installation of lampposts. Mr X’s property does not have access on to the lane and so any installation work would not have directly inconvenienced him. There is no fault in the Council not consulting him before starting work.
  2. Mr X states the lamppost spoils his view and the enjoyment of his home. The Council has to consider many competing factors in planning lamppost placement. The design plans set out where to place the lamppost to ensure maximum light distribution and safety for pedestrians. It placed the lamppost on the property boundary to reduce the impact on the resident’s views. The Council ensured a ‘competent person’ reviewed the design plan, the outdoor lighting report and Mr X’s alternative plan after his second complaint. I cannot question the Council’s decision simply because Mr X does not agree with it. There was no fault in the way the Council made its decision to site the lamppost behind Mr X’s house.
  3. Mr X states the light shines directly into his property. The Council offered to make changes to the lamp and post to reduce the impact of the light on Mr X’s house. It is open to Mr X to contact the Council to agree the mitigation work. Once the Council has completed the work it said it is willing to take light readings from Mr X’s property.
  4. Mr X complained the Council was unfair and bias in its handling of his complaint. The Contractors stage 1 response stated the British Standards were the required legal standards. British Standard Institute is the nationally recognised standards body for road lighting. We would therefore expect councils to follow the recommendations set out in BS 5489 when it designed and implemented a new lighting scheme. There is no evidence the Contractor or Council tried to mislead Mr X about the legal status of the British Standards and there is no evidence its response was unfair or biased. There was no fault in the Contractors handling of Mr X’s complaint.
  5. The Council’s response to Mr X at stage 2 was proportionate and appropriate. The Council considered Mr X’s alternative design plan and decided not to implement it, which it is entitled to do, and explained its reasons for not doing so. It also explained the holly hedge was not subject to a preservation or protection order. The Council did not answer all Mr X’s questions about the design and implementation of the lighting, however it was not obliged to respond to every question put to it. There was no fault in the Council’s handling of Mr X’s complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have not found any fault in the Council’s actions.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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