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Sunderland City Council (21 001 404)

Category : Transport and highways > Traffic management

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 28 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about dangerous and illegal parking outside a business on the road where he lives. Access to Mr X’s home has often been blocked as a result. He said the Council failed to take effective action or come up with a resolution. The Ombudsman found no fault in the Council’s response to Mr X’s complaints.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained about dangerous and illegal parking outside a business on the road where he lives. Access to Mr X’s home has often been blocked as a result. He said the Council failed to take effective action or come up with a resolution.
  2. Mr X said this caused him distress. He said the Council put the interests of the business above safety.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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. As part of the investigation, I have considered the following:
    • The complaint and the documents provided by the complainant.
    • Documents provided by the Council and its comments in response to my enquiries.
    • The Highways Act 1980
    • The Traffic Management Act 2004.
    • Guidance for local authorities on enforcing parking restrictions (updated 22 June 2020).
    • The Council’s parking charter and guidance on parking.
  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

Legislation and guidance

  1. Under the Traffic Management Act 2004, parking contraventions are subject to civil enforcement.
  2. Government guidance confirms councils should ensure parking is safe and secure. Councils should design parking policies that have regard to managing traffic, improving road safety, improving the local environment, and managing competing demand for kerb space.
  3. Raising revenue should not be an objective of parking enforcement and councils should not set targets for the number of Penalty Charge Notices they issue. The purpose of Penalty Charge Notices is to dissuade motorists from breaking parking restrictions.
  4. Councils may wish to set out situations when a Penalty Charge Notice should not be issued. They may wish to consider a verbal warning where the contravention is minor or where a driver returns to the vehicle before a Penalty Charge Notice has been served.
  5. It is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 to wilfully obstruct free passage along a highway. A person who commits such an offence may be liable to a fine. The Police may seize a vehicle they consider is dangerously, illegally, or obstructively parked.

The Council’s policy

  1. The Council’s parking charter confirms motorists cannot park on double yellow lines at any time. If they do, enforcement officers may issue a Penalty Charge Notice.
  2. Cycle tracks are for the use of cyclists and access must be maintained. If a motorist parks on a cycle track an enforcement officer may issue a Penalty Charge Notice.
  3. The Council’s enforcement officers will adopt a helpful and consistent approach to encourage lawful and considerate parking.
  4. Enforcement officers will first observe a vehicle before taking enforcement action. The observation period is 20 minutes for commercial vehicles and 5 minutes for private vehicles.

What happened

  1. I have detailed below some of the key events leading to Mr X’s complaint. This is not intended to be a detailed account of what took place.
  2. Mr X lives on a road which has double yellow lines and a cycle lane. A business found on the same road parks cars belonging to its customers over the double yellow lines and obstructing the cycle lane. Mr X considers the parking poses a risk to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists as they must avoid the parked cars.
  3. Mr X told me he raised the parking issue with the Council over several months, before finally going through the complaints process when the Council did not address his concerns. He said the illegal parking reached the point where cars blocked the entrance to his home. He also had a collision with a cyclist when exiting his home because the cyclist had to use the pavement to avoid cars blocking the cycle lane.
  4. Mr X complained to the Council on 23 March 2021. Ha said enforcement officers attend once a day and ask the business to move the cars. The business moves the cars but then parks them in the same place again when officers leave. He said the Council did not carry out follow up checks and was negligent in allowing the situation to continue. He asked the Council to install bollards to stop cars parking on the footpath and cycle lane.
  5. The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint on 25 March. It said:
    • There was an incident at the location which resulted in the Council deciding enforcement officers should patrol in pairs. It said officers do carry out patrols of the area when resources allow and take suitable action if necessary.
    • Cars parked in the cycle lane are generally associated with a local business and are moved once enforcement officers are visible.
    • Where cars are parked on double yellow lines on the highway, officers carry out an observation period before issuing fines – 5 minutes for private cars and 20 minutes for commercial vehicles.
    • It was working with the Police about concerns in the area. The Police spoke with the business and reiterated it needs to remove cars from the restricted area of the highway.
    • It was not currently considering bollards at the location. Instead, it was considering widening the cycle lane and reducing the width of the carriageway to allow for on-road parking spaces.
    • It would continue to monitor and patrol the area. It recognised it needed further work to improve the situation but said it could not resolve matters immediately.
  6. Mr X remained dissatisfied and asked the Council to reconsider his complaint. He did not agree with the Council’s plan to narrow the carriageway to create on-street parking. He said the road is too busy.
  7. The Council sent its final response to Mr X’s complaint on 28 April. It said:
    • Enforcement officers attend as part of daily patrols. If motorists park on double yellow lines, officers ask the driver to move on or ask staff from the business to move them. Once the area is clear, officers leave as they have other areas to cover. Officers make return visits when staffing levels allow.
    • Officers cannot issue instant fines to cars causing an obstruction – that is a matter for the police. However, if motorists park in the cycle lane officers can issue a Penalty Charge Notice.
    • Its proposed scheme of widening the cycle lane and narrowing the carriageway will still give enough capacity to allow the existing flow of traffic.
  8. The Council did not uphold Mr X’s complaint. It said it was trying to reduce and manage the illegal parking issue and was creating proposals for a new scheme to improve parking at the location.
  9. Mr X brought his complaint to the Ombudsman because he was concerned at the lack of action taken by the Council.
  10. Mr X wants the Council to fine all cars parked in the cycle lane immediately. And, instead of restructuring the road, Mr X wants the Council to install bollards or barriers to stop illegal parking.

Response to enquiries

  1. The Council told me it is aware of the issues raised by Mr X and officers from the Council’s parking services regularly visit.
  2. Between January and September 2021, the Council told me it issued 27 Penalty Charge Notices. Five of those were issued directly outside the garage and five were issued on the cycle track.
  3. The Council said it has considered several improvement measures, including widening the cycle lane and reducing the width of the carriageway to one lane. That would allow room for on road parking spaces and should prevent parking in the cycle lane.
  4. The Council said it is designing a scheme to improve parking in the area. It will include Mr X in the consultation process.

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Analysis

  1. Mr X is understandably concerned and frustrated about the parking situation where he lives. He considers the Council’s response has been inadequate. He wants stronger measures taken against parking contraventions. He does not agree with the Council’s proposals to change the road layout. He would prefer physical barriers to prevent parking.
  2. On the evidence seen, the Council recognises there is an issue with parking on Mr X’s street and it has taken measures to target the problem. Enforcement officers made regular visits each month and either moved cars on or issued PCNs. The Council’s resources are limited, and it must also visit other areas, so it cannot regularly make repeat visits to a location in the same day.
  3. The Council’s policy states enforcement officers will allow an observation period and will act fairly and proportionately. On some occasions, officers issued Penalty Charge Notices. On other occasions, officers asked owners to move their vehicles. The Council also liaised with the Police, who visited the business and gave advice to the owner. I have not seen evidence of fault in the Council’s approach.
  4. The Council is designing an improvement scheme, which it will ask Mr X to comment on as part of its public consultation.
  5. The Council did consider Mr X’s request for physical barriers, but decided it wanted to develop measures to change the layout of the road instead.
  6. While I appreciate Mr X disagrees with the Council’s proposals, it is not the role of the Ombudsman to make decisions about changes to the highway. That is down to the Council and relevant highways agencies.
  7. Mr X has raised legitimate concerns and I do not dismiss his compliant, but I have not seen evidence the Council ignored his reports or took no action. The Council acted in line with relevant policy and guidance when considering enforcement action and I have not seen evidence of fault.
  8. If vehicles obstruct access to Mr X’s home he can report this to the Police.

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Final decision

  1. Subject to further comments by Mr X and the Council, I intend to complete my investigation. The Ombudsman found no fault in the Council’s response to Mr X’s complaints.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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