Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 17 Jul 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained the Council had not properly considered her complaint about an increase in traffic, and the speed of vehicles travelling past her house following the opening of a new dual carriageway. The Council was not at fault for how it considered the increase in traffic. The Council was at fault because its speed management strategy was unclear and contains misleading information about its part in investigating speeding vehicles. The Council agreed to review its speed management strategy so it accurately reflects its role in responding to complaints about speeding vehicles.
- Mrs X complained the Council had not properly considered her complaint about an increase in traffic, and the speed of traffic, passing her house following the opening of a new dual carriageway. Mrs X said the increase in traffic caused her loss of amenity.
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 spoke to Mrs X about her complaint.
- I considered the Council’s response to my enquiry letter.
- Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered the comments before I made my final decision.
What I found
- Under the Planning Act 2008 a developer intending to construct a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) must obtain ‘development consent’. NSIPs in the transport sector include new roads which would form part of the strategic road network operated by the Highways Agency.
- Any application for a NSIP is subject to extensive public examination and consultation.
- The Planning Inspectorate upon receiving and considering an application for a NSIP will send their report and recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport. The Secretary of State for Transport will then decide whether to grant or refuse development consent. If their decision is to grant consent for the project, the Secretary of State for Transport will make a ‘development consent order’ (DCO).
- The Land Compensation Act allows for claims on residential properties where physical factors such as noise, vibration, pollution and public works, have caused its value to depreciate. Public works include any work on roads and highways.
- The Council’s speed management strategy sets out its approach to setting local speed limits. The strategy says the Council, as local traffic authority, is responsible for setting speed limits on local roads to ensure the road network is safe for all road users and improves the quality of life in its communities.
- In relation to speed enforcement, the police support the principles set out in the strategy in relation to collision and casualty reduction. The strategy says ‘speeding’ is not just exceeding the speed limit, but more commonly inappropriate speed for the conditions and circumstances.
- The strategy says when the Council ‘receives a complaint in relation to excess speed at a particular location, it will be acknowledged and fully investigated. The accident database for the site and surrounding area will be searched and further information gleaned by the use of data gathering equipment and/or site visits. Depending upon this analysis then officers may conduct speed checks’. It says in all cases it will keep the complainant updated of its activities and findings.
- In 2015 the Council applied to the Planning Inspectorate for permission to construct and operate a dual carriageway distributor road. As part of the application process the Council undertook a public consultation of the proposal which considered public opinion, objections and the impact on the local amenity. The new dual carriageway included a new junction allowing traffic from the carriageway to access road A, where Mrs X’s house is situated. Mrs X lives in an isolated property situated on road A, north of a village centre. Road A is an access point to the city centre after it passes through the village.
- The consultation document for the proposal acknowledged concerns from Mrs X’s Parish Council that the new dual carriageway junction would mean an increased level of traffic along the road. The consultation response said its modelling predicted traffic would increase on the northern section of the road
- The Planning Inspectorate passed the application to the Secretary of State for Transport. The Secretary of State for Transport decided to grant development consent for the Council to construct the new dual carriageway. The new dual carriageway opened for use in March 2018.
- Mrs X complained to the Council in August 2018. Mrs X said that since the new dual carriageway had opened there was a significant increase in traffic travelling past her house on road A. Mrs X said the increase in lorries and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) was of particular concern. Mrs X said the increase in traffic was having a detrimental effect on her home amenity causing her stress and worries around health and safety.
- The Council responded to Mrs X in September 2018. It said as part of the monitoring of the new dual carriageway it would be carrying out traffic counts on road A. It said one was planned for the end of September 2018, with another 12 months after. The Council confirmed there was no vehicle weight restriction on road A.
- Mrs X remained unhappy and contacted the Council again in October 2018. She said HGVs were waking her most nights going past her house. Mrs X said most of the lorries were too wide for road A and kept driving over the centre line of the road against oncoming traffic. Mrs X asked the Council to carry out the traffic count in a specific location on road A so it would accurately reflect the increase in traffic.
- The Council wrote to Mrs X in December 2018 and provided her with the results of the traffic count on road A. It said the results showed the traffic levels were not unusual for the type of road.
- Mrs X remained unhappy. She said road A was unsuitable for HGV’s and vehicles were travelling past her house too fast. She asked the Council to direct traffic away from road A. She also asked it to propose some mitigations to protect her amenity.
- The Council provided Mrs X with a final response in January 2019. It said road A was 6 metres wide and therefore met highway standards for an HGV access road. The Council said road A was a dedicated local access route and recommended as a route for HGV. Therefore, it was unable to implement any weight restrictions. The Council said if Mrs X had concerns around the speed of vehicles she should report them to the police. The Council’s response included figures from the dual carriageway’s traffic modelling completed as part of the consultation process. The modelling predicted a significant increase of traffic on road A, however, the Council said the figures collected from the count in 2018 showed the traffic level was lower than the modelling predicted.
- Mrs X remained unhappy and complained to the Ombudsman. She said the Council had taken too long to deal with her complaint and had not proposed anything to mitigate her loss of amenity due to the increase in traffic past her house.
- In response to my enquiries about its speed management strategy, the Council acknowledged it gives misleading information about how it investigates complaints about speeding vehicles. The information provided implied the Council would full investigate complaints about speeding vehicles at a particular location. However, the Council clarified it would only investigate locations where the police had reported it as a location of concern, or if it was a known accident spot. The Council said the advice given to Mrs X that she should approach the police with her speeding concerns was correct.
- The Ombudsman is not an appeal body. We cannot criticise a decision made without fault in the process. As part of the application process, the Council undertook extensive public consultation on the dual carriageway which included an acknowledgement that traffic would increase on road A. The Council carried out modelling which predicted the traffic on road A would significantly increase. The Council published the consultation document on its website. The Council considered that information but still decided to recommend the dual carriageway. The Secretary of State for Transport then considered that information and decided to approve development consent for the dual carriageway. There was no fault in how the Council considered the traffic increase on road A.
- Mrs X complained to the Council in September 2018, however she did not receive a final response until January 2019. As part of the Council’s response to Mrs X it said it would carry out traffic counts on road A. The Council told Mrs X it would carry out the counts in October 2018, but did not complete the count until December 2018. While that was frustrating for Mrs X, the Council had already scheduled the traffic counts and they were not specifically for Mrs X following her complaint. The Council could not provide a detailed response to Mrs X’s complaint without comparing the results from the count against the predictions from the modelling. So, although the time taken was frustrating, it was necessary to provide a meaningful response. Therefore, while there was a delay in responding to Mrs X’s complaint, this delay falls short of being fault.
- The count results showed the traffic level on road A was lower than predicted by the modelling and found the number of HGVs was not unusual for the type of road. Road A is classified as a local access route and meets highway standards for HGV access. The Council considered the use of weight restrictions on the road. However, road A is a local access road so HGVs would be able to use it for access to a destination regardless of any restrictions in place.
- In relation to the speed of vehicles, the Council told Mrs X to report her concerns to the police, in line with its speed management strategy. While the Council did in fact give Mrs X the correct advice, the strategy implied the Council would acknowledge and full investigate complaints of speeding vehicles. The strategy is misleading and gives the impression the Council will provide customers with a full investigation into speeding complaints. That was fault, although as the Council gave Mrs X the correct advice it did not cause her a significant injustice.
- The opening of the dual carriageway has increased the level of traffic on road A and so has caused Mrs X a loss of amenity. The Council has suggested Mrs X may wish to pursue a claim for compensation under the Land Compensation Act for any depreciation in value of her property caused by the increased traffic. It is for Mrs X to consider whether to pursue this option.
- Within three months of the final decision the Council agreed to review its speed management strategy to accurately reflect how the Council will respond to complaints about speeding vehicles.
- I have completed my investigation. I found fault and the Council agreed to my recommendation to address it.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman