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Devon County Council (21 001 085)

Category : Transport and highways > Traffic management

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 11 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about how the Council decided not to reduce the speed limit or implement traffic calming measures on a road near his house. The Council was not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained about how the Council decided not to reduce the speed limit or implement traffic calming measures on a road near his house. Mr X says this has been frustrating and distressing as the road is extremely dangerous.

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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 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)
  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • all the information Mr X provided and discussed the complaint with him;
    • the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided; and
    • the Council’s policies.
  2. 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

Relevant policy

  1. The Council has a joint policy with the Police to deal with speeding issues.
  2. If appropriate, the Council will use a Speed Detection Radar (SDR) to check the speed of vehicles travelling along a road. There are five outcomes to an investigation (level 0 to 4), dependent on the speed of the cars.
  3. The highest outcome level, level four, is applicable when the mean speed of the cars observed is more than 25% above the speed limit. Level four is the only level at which the Council will consider implementing an ‘engineered solution’, including reducing the speed limit and speed humps.

What happened

  1. Mr X first complained to the Council about speeding on a road near his house in 2002. The road has a 30mph speed limit. Mr X wanted more traffic calming on the road due to accidents that had been happening. The Council responded to say it had plans to consider making the road 20mph and would consider traffic calming features. However, it could not guarantee such measures would prevent accidents.
  2. The Council told me that following 2002, a change in circumstances meant it decided not to reduce the speed limit or add traffic calming measures.
  3. In 2016, the Council placed an SDR on the road to measure the speed of the cars travelling along it. The Council decided not to change the speed limit.
  4. In April 2020, Mr X contacted his councillor about the road. He said the road continued to be dangerous and he was unhappy about the Council's lack of action.
  5. The Council responded. It said it was reviewing the speed limit policy and would introduce a 20mph speed limit trial in a nearby town. It would monitor the outcome of that trial and use it form the basis of its new speed limit policy. It would therefore not consider any new schemes. It also said the SDR results from 2016 showed the speed of vehicles was compliant with the 30mph speed limit.
  6. In September 2020, the Council placed a SDR on the road again. It was in place for one week.
  7. In October, Mr X complained. He said the Council installed the SDR at a time when traffic was artificially slowed. He said there were higher numbers of builders and students parked on the road. Also, the SDR was placed where engineers were installing a new telegraph pole, reducing the road to a single carriageway for some of the monitoring period.
  8. The Council responded in early November. It said it had installed the SDR as part of a review of recent changes in the area. It was satisfied the camera captured representative data during the week it was in place.
  9. The Council received the results of the SDR in January 2021. The report stated the location of the SDR was the same in 2016 and 2020. The majority of vehicles were travelling between 29.8 and 33mph; slower than in 2016. The volume of traffic was similar in both years except for a couple of hours in the morning and late afternoon when rates were higher in 2016.
  10. In March 2021, the Council sent its final response to Mr X. It said:
    • it had reviewed the speeds on the road and was satisfied that in both 2016 and 2020, speeds were within acceptable limits; and
    • it felt a 30mph speed limit was appropriate for the road and that traffic complied with it.
  11. Mr X remained unsatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman. He said the Council had assured him it would not use the 2020 SDR data because it had been blocked by the installation of the telegraph pole and a tree was also being cut down nearby. He said he wanted the Council to honour a commitment he said councillors made in 2002 to reduce the speed limit and add humps.
  12. In response to my enquiries the Council said the SDR recorded an average of 4000 cars per day in 2020 compared to 4500 in 2016. It said the difference was likely due to the reduction in car use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Findings

  1. The law states the Ombudsman 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. Mr X complained about the Council's approach to his requests for a speed limit dating back to 2002. I consider it reasonable to expect Mr X to have complained about the issue at the time, when it became clear the Council was not going to change the speed limit or install humps. I have therefore investigated the Council's actions from April 2020 to March 2021. This is the period from when Mr X complained to his councillor to the Council's final response.
  2. The Ombudsman cannot question a Council's decision if it is made without fault. When Mr X raised his concerns, the Council decided it was not going to make any changes while it was carrying out a review of its policy. The Council was entitled to decide not to implement any new traffic schemes while it was reviewing its policy. It was not at fault.
  3. When changes in the area suggested a review was needed, the Council arranged for a further SDR survey. This was a suitable response. The SDR was in place for one week and while the tree cutting and telegraph pole installation may have temporarily slowed traffic, this would not have been for the full monitoring period. Further, the volume of cars travelling past the SDR was at a similar level to 2016. I therefore do not consider the effect of the pole installing and tree cutting was sufficient to call the SDR results into question. The Council was not at fault for using the results when deciding not to reduce the speed limit or install speed humps.
  4. There is no evidence the Council agreed to disregard the results of the 2020 SDR due to Mr X’s concerns. Its response in early November shows it told Mr X it had considered whether the SDR results were representative of traffic on the road and was satisfied they were. The Council was not at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have not found evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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