Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 27 Jun 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr C says the Council failed to make a local water company carry out roadworks on a road he uses in a timely fashion. The Council fulfilled its statutory duties and was not responsible for any delay. It was not, therefore, at fault.
- The complainant, who I have called Mr C, says the Council failed to fulfil its duties under the Traffic Management Act 2004 to secure the expeditious movement of traffic on a road in its control.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I attempted to contact Mr C but he did not respond to my enquiries. I wrote an enquiry letter to the Council incorporating elements of Mr C’s complaint. I considered the Council’s response alongside the relevant law.
- I sent my draft decision to Mr C and the Council and invited their comments.
What I found
What should happen
- The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (‘NRSWA’) controls the way councils arrange for ‘street works’. Street works include all works connected with placing, adjusting or removing apparatus in a highway, except for works carried out by the highway authority itself. Councils should try to minimise the disruption caused.
- The NRSWA allows two classes of people to dig up the highway and place apparatus in, across or below it:
- Statutory undertakers (gas, water, electricity and telecoms companies); and
- Those with a specific street works licence.
- In 2018, Mr C commuted along a road in the company’s area. The local water company planned to improve the water supply for a town on that road. This work would, inevitably, mean some disruption to traffic.
- The water company decided to line existing pipework rather than install new pipes. It believed this would minimise traffic disruption. The scheme was a large engineering project which ran from August 2018 to January 2019.
- The water company separated the project into various sub-projects which it intended to complete in as short a time as possible to minimise traffic disruption.
- For one sub-project, it needed to dig up the road to install a cross connection and a pressure reducing valve onto a nine-inch main pipe before disconnecting the abandoned nine-inch main.
- Council officers met water company engineers at the site in early August to discuss the impact on traffic.
- The water company began lining works on 4 September 2018. It ceased work five weeks later in mid-October because it was unable to find the 9-inch main. It then removed all traffic management measures from the road except one in the central reservation which had to remain for the duration of the project.
- The company returned six weeks later when it had completed other parts of the project and completed the sub-project in a week by early December 2018.
- Work on another sub-project began on 13 November 2018. The water company had planned to complete the works by Christmas 2018. It had to test water quality before completing the works. The water failed the quality test in December 2018. This led to a four-day delay.
- This meant the work was not complete by Christmas. They were closed for ten days over Christmas 2018 and reopened in January 2019. They were completed on 6 January 2018. The traffic lights were removed on 8 January.
- The Council visited the site to check the effect on traffic on several occasions and found no significant disruption.
Was there fault causing injustice?
- I have found no fault. Mr C says the Council has a duty under the Traffic Management Act 2004 to ‘secure the expeditious movement of traffic on the authority's road network’.
- However, s.16 of that Act actually says a council must do this only ‘so far as may be reasonably practicable having regard to their other obligations, policies and objectives’.
- By virtue of the NRSWA, the water company had a right, as statutory undertaker, to dig up the road to carry out necessary works. It decided works were necessary.
- The Council discussed the impact on traffic with the water company. They agreed a schedule to minimise disruption. Thus, the Council complied with its duty under the Traffic Management Act 2004.
- Due to unforeseen circumstances, the works took longer than expected. This was not the Council’s fault.
- The Council visited the site and found disruption was within acceptable limits. This was a professional decision it was entitled to make.
- I have decided the Council was not at fault. I have closed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman