Northamptonshire County Council (18 007 717)

Category : Transport and highways > Traffic management

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 14 Jun 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains the Council did not properly consider objections when deciding to impose permanent no waiting restrictions down a nearby road; he says the Council was biased and predetermined the decision. The Ombudsman found that although the process did not start in the normal way, the Council then followed the correct process and considered all relevant information when it decided the matter. Therefore, the outcome was the same regardless of earlier fault, so does not cause a significant injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Mr B, complains on behalf of a resident’s group. They say there was fault in the way the Council decided to apply permanent ‘no‑waiting’ restrictions on a road in the village in which they live. Mr B says the Council did not take enough account of objections against the proposals and the process was not fair or transparent. Mr B says the decision to impose restrictions was flawed and predetermined. Mr B is feels the Council acted unjustly.

Back to top

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. 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • Information provided by Mr B.
    • The Council’s response to my enquiries.
    • The Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996.
    • The Traffic management Act 2004.
    • The Highways Act 1980.
    • The Council’s ‘Network Management Plan 2013’
    • Responses to a draft of this statement.

Back to top

What I found

Background

  1. In May 2016, the owner of a large historic house (referred to as ‘the house’ in this statement) made an application to the Council for temporary waiting restrictions on the access road. The applicant asked for restrictions to be applied 24 hours per day and stated they intended to apply for permanent ‘no waiting’ restrictions (double yellow lines) on the road.
  2. The Council granted temporary ‘no waiting’ restrictions on both sides of the road in summer 2016. The restrictions applied from the entrance of the house for 35 metres back to a main road through the village.
  3. We considered a previous complaint about the decision to apply temporary restrictions and the decision is not part of this investigation.

Mr B’s complaint

  1. The complaint concerns the introduction of permanent no waiting restrictions along a road in the village where the members of the resident’s group live.
  2. The Council has a form for members of the public to complete to ask for parking restrictions. The house owner did not complete this form. Rather, the Council stated the owner of the house originally made a verbal request for parking restrictions in February 2016 to an elected council member. The Council implemented temporary restrictions while considering whether no-waiting restrictions should apply permanently.
  3. In June 2016, when the Council was considering the application for temporary restrictions, the Council met with the Village Meeting (a form of parish council). At the meeting the Council told residents it was considering permanent no waiting restrictions.
  4. Council officers stated the house was now occupied, so there would be continuous work there and a steady flow of visitors. Officers stated private insurance was now needed and access for emergency services was a consideration. Officers explained the highways department and fire and rescue service had inspected the road. They decided parking restrictions may be necessary.
  5. The minutes show some residents questioned the extent of the problem. They noted when work was being done at the house previously access had not been a problem. Others felt the road had become more congested and some action might be needed. A request was made for more information from highways about the size of vehicles that could use the road and proper measurements to show potential pinch points.
  6. Officers carried out a site visit in July 2016 and in August used Global Positioning System (GPS) and modelling software to accurately measure the road and consider the access available to vehicles of different sizes. These included emergency service vehicles.
  7. The Council provided us with a report from the fire service dated July 2016 documenting a visit carried out earlier in the year. It stated the fire service had concerns about the access to the site for emergency vehicles. This was due to the location of the site, the single access road and private vehicle parking.
  8. The fire service stated there were no immediate concerns, but it felt it was important that reasonable and proportionate action was taken to prevent delays accessing the site to mitigate the risk to the public and the house. It noted this was a historically important building which was now being opened to the public. The fire service made several recommendations, including the potential for no waiting restrictions for the full length of the access road (to be determined by the highway authority).
  9. In October 2016 at a further public meeting council officers told residents it had added the temporary restrictions to ensure emergency vehicles could access the house. After considering mapping surveys, officers decided the road needed permanent double yellow lines down its whole length. The Council explained the work it had done and shared diagrams showing the findings.
  10. The minutes recorded residents’ comments. Some felt that emergency vehicles could pass parked vehicles by using the footpath. They also felt the work the Council had done showed the worst-case scenario. They questioned how often GPS and modelling work was done and why their village had been singled out. Some residents noted the parked vehicles would need to park somewhere else, and they questioned the limited parking elsewhere and safety issues of parking on the main road in the village. The minutes showed that various other issues were discussed. The conclusions noted the Council agreed to place the process on hold, to allow time to get a definitive fire service report.
  11. The Council consulted the fire service around two weeks later. It explained the background and public interest in the issue. It also shared the minutes of the meeting. The Council asked the fire service to comment on the use of footpaths (to drive over and within the minimum space calculation for passing vehicles). It also asked if the fire service would arrange for a typical fire tender to meet on site. It suggested residents’ cars would be parked as normal and this would enable it to do a definitive assessment of access.
  12. The fire service’s response stated it was their preference not to include footpaths in the minimum space required by fire appliances. In response to the suggestion of a visit, the fire service referred to pictures from the last visit. It stated if it needed to access the house at night or when most residents were at home, it would be difficult, if not impossible. The fire service noted the driveway (to the house) was long and it would take seven hoses to reach it from the main street, so it would be a long time before firefighting could begin if it could not gain access. The fire service stated their belief was that double yellow lines down the whole of the road would relieve the problem.
  13. In December 2016, the Council advised the village meeting it would advertise permanent ‘no-waiting’ restrictions. The Council posted the required notice in the local press and hand delivered consultation letters to residents inviting their comments. The Council erected site notices. The deadline to comment was 14 January 2017.
  14. Between January and December 2017 the Council told me officers were compiling the responses to the consultation and preparing a report. Between the end of June and the end of July the Council carried out parking surveys to look at the available space to park elsewhere in the village.
  15. The Council sent a draft report to the local councillor for comment in September 2017. In December 2017, the Council decided to go with the restrictions. Officers decided the case under their delegated powers.
  16. The officers report explained the background and the proposals. It also summarised the objections received and the contacts from those in support of parking restrictions. Appendices with the report showed the comments made for and against the proposals in more detail and provided copies of consultation responses, parking surveys and other information the Council considered.
  17. Having reviewed the representations and objections, the decision maker, stated the primary purpose of the highway was to enable people to get to and from destinations and he felt introducing parking restrictions would be of benefit. The Council’s assessment of vehicle movements showed any parked vehicle on the road could potentially cause an obstruction to through traffic. He noted comments about use of the pavement but stated the Highway Authority could not condone driving on the pavement. The decision maker acknowledged that residents wanted to park near their houses. He also noted the concerns about displaced parking elsewhere. However, he decided the impact would be minimal and would not lead to safety issues. The Council decided it should impose the proposals as advertised.
  18. Mr B complained the Council did not take residents objections seriously. He felt the Council did not properly consider the safety implications of increased parking elsewhere in the village. Mr B stated the consultation process had not been fair or transparent and he felt the decision was flawed.

Requests for parking restrictions

  1. The Council has a standard form for someone to complete if they want the Council to consider imposing parking restrictions. The covering letter explains, for cost reasons, the Council usually collates all such requests and considers them once a year by area. This is because it can make savings by advertising groups of proposed parking restrictions, as opposed to advertising them individually.

Council policy

  1. Section 12 of the Council’s Network Management Plan considers applications for no waiting restrictions. The Council’s policy states that no waiting restrictions will not be introduced if the result is transferring the problem elsewhere. It sets out seven scenarios where they will be considered. These include parked vehicles causing an obstruction to emergency service access, and where no waiting restrictions are supported by the emergency services.

Legislation

  1. The Traffic Management Act 2004 places a duty upon local authorities to ensure the effective management of road networks.
  2. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 gives the councils the power to make Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs). TROs can be used to impose various changes to highways. These include the imposition of no-waiting restrictions.
  3. The procedure for implementing a TRO can be found in The Local Authorities Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996.
  4. Local authorities should publicise notice of the proposed changes in a local newspaper and take any other steps considered necessary to adequately publicise what it proposes. It should allow 21 days for objections to be made by the public.

Building Regulations

  1. Part B of the Building Regulations is concerned with fire safety. Among other things it specifies that the minimum road width (kerb to kerb) for fire service access should be 3.7 metres.

Analysis

  1. The process did not start as it normally would, as the Council did not require the normal application form. The Council would also normally not advertise an application individually and would only act once per year. This gives an appearance of bias towards the applicant, because the Council amended its normal approach.
  2. The Council explains the reason it did not need an application in this case, and why it did not wait for other applications to advertise them together, was because temporary restrictions were already in place. The Council had already told the public at a meeting that it would need to consider the need for permanent restrictions. This is flawed reasoning because a temporary traffic regulation order should not be used to inform the need for a permanent traffic regulation order.
  3. As part of its consideration the Council referred to information an officer who lived close to the area provided. The officer had noted the number of cars parked on the road early in the morning and on an evening. It is not fault for the Council to have considered this information, but it was misleading for the public when the Council referred to this information as traffic surveys. Any such information, whether got formally or informally, should be properly recorded on the case file. The Council later carried out formal traffic surveys.
  4. It appeared a long time to members of the public for the Council to reach its decision in December 2017, following the consultation closure in January 2017. However, the Council was taking actions and considering the case over that period. The Council has two years from the date of the advertisement before the order needs to be sealed. In cases such as this where there is much interest and many representations to consider, the Council will take time to fully assess and decide the case. I find there is no fault by the Council as it has showed there were no significant delays.
  5. The Council considered residents’ concerns about displacing parked vehicles to other areas, and of other solutions residents put forward such as removing the footpath on the road to widen it. The Council’s view, based on investigation, is that any displacement of parked cars will be minimal. The cost of removing the footpath would be high and the Council did not consider it the best solution.
  6. Although there was some fault early in the process, and this causes Mr B some outrage, I find the Council then followed the correct process to reach its decision to impose permanent no waiting restrictions. It properly publicised the application, considered the representations it received, including those from the fire service, and considered alternative proposals. The Council acted in accordance with the law and with its published policy to reach its decision, despite not having an application and starting the process in the normal way.
  7. Although Mr B disagrees with the Council’s decision, there is no reason for the Ombudsman to question or criticise it as the Council has properly taken the decision, as explained in the above paragraph.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I completed my investigation on the basis the Council’s actions did not cause significant fault to Mr B and other local residents.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page