Wokingham Borough Council (18 008 200)

Category : Transport and highways > Traffic management

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 31 Jul 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains about the Council’s decision on a planning application and its refusal to agree road safety measures, putting himself and others at risk. He also complains about delays in complaint handling. The Ombudsman will not investigate the Council’s decision on a planning application as this arose more than 12 months ago. The Ombudsman finds no fault in the Council’s decisions on road safety but finds fault in the Council’s complaint handling. The Ombudsman recommends the Council makes a payment to Mr X for time and trouble.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council:
    • was wrong to approve a road layout and bus route on a new development.
    • is wrong to refuse to introduce speed limits or traffic calming measures and remove the bus route.
    • delayed in responding to his complaints.
  2. Mr X says the Council’s decision is contrary to design guidelines and compromises safety. And, he has been put to time and trouble during the complaint process.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s refusal to introduce speed limits or traffic calming measures and remove the bus route. At the end of this decision I have set out why I have not investigated other matters.

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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 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)
  4. 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 the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  5. 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 spoke to Mr X and I reviewed documents provided by Mr X and the Council. I gave Mr X and the Council the opportunity to respond to a draft of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act states that each council must carry out studies into accidents arising out of the use of vehicles on roads within their area. And, in the light of those studies, take such measures as appear to the council to be appropriate to prevent such accidents.

Council policy

  1. The Council has adopted a Speed Management Policy in line with national guidelines and will only introduce speed limits in accordance with this Policy with the support of the Police. Generally, this means that a lower speed limit will only be introduced if either:
    • most drivers are already travelling at speeds close to the proposed speed limit and there is a benefit to road safety in reducing the limits;
    • or new features, such as traffic calming, are put in at the same time as the speed limit to change drivers’ behaviour.

Council’s complaint process

  1. The Council publishes details of its three stage complaints process on its website. At the first stage an officer will contact a complainant within three working days of receiving a complaint. If the complaint is not resolved the Council will investigate further and provide a stage 1 response within fifteen working days. If a person remains unhappy they can ask the Council to go to stage 2. The Council aims to respond within 20 working days at this stage. If a person is still unhappy they can contact the Ombudsman.

What happened

  1. Mr X says he complained to the Council in August and September 2017. However, the Council says it has no record of this correspondence.
  2. In January 2018 Mr X complained he had still not received a response to his earlier emails. He said people used Road A as a through road and sped down it at speeds exceeding 30mph. There was also now a bus route through Road A which he felt was an unnecessary addition and hazard. He referred to the Council’s Highway Design Guide in detail and said he expected the Council to apply a 20mph limit; install traffic calming measures and remove the bus route.
  3. The Council replied in April and apologised for the delay. It explained it granted outline approval for the development in 2011 and had approved reserved matters including the road layout and bus stop in 2013. It had appropriately assessed the road layout and public transport and agreed to the development at that time. In response to Mr X’s complaint it had reviewed its accident data and found no recorded road collision reports or traffic speed data to support a 20mph speed limit. Therefore, it considered traffic calming measures were not necessary. It said the bus route was necessary and agreed as part of the reserved matters.
  4. In May Mr X asked the Council to go to stage 2 as it had not addressed his points, including reference to the Design Guide.
  5. Mr X chased a response in July.
  6. In August the Council apologised for the delay and said it would contact him shortly. However, Mr X again chased a response in November.
  7. The Council did not provide a stage 2 response until December 2018. In view of this response I note the Council again apologised for its delay. The Council said in considering whether to change a speed limit or introduce traffic calming measures it takes into account accident data, road collision reports, and reports of speeding. It had no data to suggest traffic calming measures or a redesign of the road was needed. And it considered the road design encouraged users to keep their speed down. The Council noted the Design Guide was guidance only and said it had thoroughly assessed the road and transport facilities during the planning application process. It found no fault in its consideration of the issues and told Mr X to contact the Ombudsman if he remained unhappy.
  8. In response to enquiries the Council explained:
    • it had not yet adopted Road A;
    • it has no statutory traffic management responsibility;
    • the design of Road A meets the design standards and guidance expected by the Council for a typical 30mph residential road;
    • there is no reason for public transport not to use Road A.
  9. The Council said it obtains information about drivers’ speed by carrying out traffic speed surveys. Each year it prepares a programme for speed surveys in response to resident concerns. I note the Council has not said if it intends to carry out a speed survey on Road A in response to Mr X’s concerns. However, it explains will carry out periodic reviews of traffic speeds and speed limits after it has adopted Road A.
  10. The Council accepted there were delays in responding to Mr X’s complaint. It explained this was due to large case volume and changes in staff. It noted it had already apologised to Mr X for the delays.

Findings

  1. The Council has a duty to carry out studies into road accidents and then take action as it sees fit to prevent road accidents. I note there is no evidence of accidents on Road A and the Council says it has no recorded road collision reports. The Council considered the available data and decided it was not necessary to take action to improve safety on Road A. The Council appears to have taken into account relevant information and has followed a proper decision making process.
  2. I cannot say the Council’s decision is wrong simply because Mr X disagrees with it. I must consider if there was fault in the way the Council reached its decision. However, I do not find any fault in the Council’s decision making process.
  3. Having reviewed the Council’s speed management policy I cannot say it has failed to follow this. I note the Council has not said when it will survey Road A in response to Mr X’s concerns. But, in the absence of a law or policy requiring it to act now, I cannot find the Council at fault.
  4. I note the bus route is in accordance with plans approved by the Council in 2013. For reasons explained at the end of this decision I will not investigate the Council’s decision to grant planning permission. The Council has considered Mr X’s reasons for wanting to remove the bus route and it has explained why it considers it should remain. I find no fault in the Council’s decision making process.
  5. I have not seen copies of Mr X’s emails of 2017 and the Council denies receipt of these. On the evidence available I cannot say the Council received this correspondence and failed to respond.
  6. The Council did not respond to Mr X in line with its complaints process and there was a significant delay at each stage. This is fault. Mr X was put to time and trouble chasing the Council for a response and was caused frustration by the delay. I note the Council has apologised however I consider this does not adequately remedy the injustice caused.

Agreed action

  1. To remedy the fault identified above I recommend the Council pay Mr X £100 for the time and trouble in pursuing his complaint. The Council should action this within one month of the date of my decision.
  2. The Council has accepted my recommendation.

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Final decision

  1. I find no fault in the Council’s decisions on road safety but find fault in the Council’s complaint handling. The Council has accepted my recommendation and I have completed my investigation.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I have not investigated the Council’s decision to approve the road layout and bus route on the development. This is because the Council decided these matters in 2011 and 2013, more than 12 months ago. And because Mr X could have complained when he moved into the development in 2015 and did not do so. Further, it is unlikely I would find fault by the Council and it is unlikely I could say any fault caused Mr X injustice. This is because the plans for the development were in the public domain and so Mr X could have avoided any potential injustice when deciding to purchase his property.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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