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Birmingham City Council (21 001 473)

Category : Transport and highways > Traffic management

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council considered inaccurate traffic data which did not take account of COVID-19 when approving a traffic scheme. On the basis of the information seen, there is no fault although the data was based on traffic surveys completed before the pandemic and so it is possible this is inaccurate. However, there is nothing to suggest a different decision would have been made.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained:
  • Traffic information presented as part of consideration of a major traffic scheme did not take account of the effect of COVID-19 on traffic levels; and
  • A full business case was submitted for only part of the scheme.
  1. Mr X says the road improvements are not required and will exacerbate already poor air quality in the local area.

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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 complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • considered the documents on the Council’s website related to the Cabinet meeting on 16 March 2021;
    • watched the webcast of the Cabinet meeting;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • sent my draft decision to both the Council and the complainant and invited their comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr X is a local resident and a member of an environmental group campaigning against the road widening scheme. He has concerns about the impact of proposed A457 Dudley Road improvement scheme particularly on air quality in the immediate area.
  2. In June 2018, the Cabinet approved the Project Definition Document for the overall Dudley Road improvement scheme. Delivery of the scheme was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council also produced an Emergency Transport Plan as a result of the pandemic and the need to introduce social distancing measures. The Council then decided to carry out a review of the original scheme and a revised scheme was agreed. The Cabinet approved an Outline Business Case for the revised scheme on 10 November 2020. The Council also carried out public consultation on the revised scheme.
  3. At the Cabinet meeting on 16 March 2021, two items in respect of the Dudley Road improvement scheme were considered. The first item was to seek approval of the Full Business Case for part of the revised Dudley Road improvement scheme. The second item was an update report on the revised scheme.
  4. The agenda for the meeting included documents for consideration of the first item. A report was prepared by the Acting Director, Inclusive Growth setting out the proposal for consideration, a brief background, recommendations and options and financial and legal implications. Several other documents were attached to the agenda as appendices. Appendix A was the full business case for the proposal.
  5. The Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment presented the report and explained the proposal to bring forward part of the revised scheme. He explained planning permission had been granted for a large housing development and the Western Road Junction would provide access to that new housing. It was proposed to bring forward the wider junction improvements as Phase 1 of the Dudley Road scheme which would enable development occupation, avoid abortive work and save associated delivery costs.
  6. After one question about funding for the scheme, the proposal was accepted by Cabinet.
  7. The second agenda item was an update report on the revised Dudley Road improvement scheme. Again the Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment presented the report. He said it was giving Cabinet members an update on the progress of the scheme as well as seeking approval of the Revised Scheme Design which included a “shelf ready” scheme. The report noted the delivery of the main scheme works would be subject to approval of a Full Business Case when the funding had been identified and secured.
  8. No comments or questions were raised in responses to this agenda item so the proposal was accepted.

Analysis

  1. Mr X complains about the information about traffic travel levels presented as part of the first item. He says Appendix A includes information under the heading “Existing Situation and Issues” which had not taken account of changes in behaviour due to COVID-19. In particular he raises concerns about the figures for traffic movements on the road which stated over 30,000 vehicles per day use the road. Mr X says this information was gathered as a result of traffic surveys in 2016 and 2018 and so could no longer be relied on. Mr X says the Council should accept this information is inaccurate and present a revised document to cabinet highlighting this error.
  2. The information provided shows the proposals for the Dudley Road have been under consideration for several years. The Council approved the scheme in 2018 and this traffic data was considered as part of that decision. I have seen nothing to suggest Mr X raised any concerns about the accuracy of this data at that time.
  3. The information presented to Cabinet in March 2021, clearly set out the proposal under consideration and explained the background and history of the scheme. While the traffic data may not have been updated, the scheme itself was revised because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr X believes traffic numbers may have reduced due to changes in behaviour following the pandemic such as more people working from home. He says the Council should not have made a decision based on inaccurate information.
  4. I appreciate Mr X has clear views about the Dudley Road improvement scheme and that he would like to prevent it going ahead. The proposal under consideration was in relation to the timing of the works rather than the necessity of the scheme as a whole. So I do not consider it was fault for the Council to include the original information and documents detailing the history of the project with the agenda. A Full Business Case was presented to support the proposal to bring forward one part of the works and this is the only concern Mr X has raised. It is possible the pandemic has affected the amount of traffic using the road and that therefore the Council was incorrect to present information gathered over two years ago as the existing situation. However, this is just one small part of the scheme as a whole and there were many other factors under consideration. The Council has acknowledged a temporary reduction in general traffic levels due to the COVID-19 restrictions but says there is no current evidence or guidance to support a long-term change.
  5. I have watched the webcast of the meeting and Cabinet Members were given the opportunity to ask questions and raise issues. No-one raised concerns about the necessity for the scheme as a result of the pandemic and no-one asked about the traffic data. I am not persuaded that even if this data was incorrect that it had a significant impact on the decision making in this case.
  6. Mr X also complained that a Full Business Case was not presented for the full scheme. I find no fault on this issue. It was clear a decision was being sought on part of the scheme and a Full Business Case was presented for that part. The Council was clear that a Full Business Case will be considered for the rest of the scheme once funding is secured.

Final decision

  1. I will now complete my investigation as there is no evidence of fault causing a significant injustice in this case.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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