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Bristol City Council (21 010 445)

Category : Transport and highways > Traffic management

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about how the Council dealt with parking issues near his home. We found that, while the Council properly processed changes to local parking restrictions, it failed to communicate clearly with Mr X. The Council’s apologies to Mr X had already addressed the frustration caused by its poor communication.

The complaint

  1. Mr X said the Council failed for two years to properly respond to his requests to address problems within a local residents’ parking scheme. It then failed to properly consult with residents before making a traffic order to change the scheme. Mr X said he lost his opportunity to comment on the Council’s proposals and to ask for more parking bays before it made an order that did not address residents’ concerns. Mr X still could not park near his home, which was unreasonable, and the Council could not say when it would next review the order. Mr X wanted the Council to admit its mistakes and remake the order, consulting local people and addressing their concerns. Mr X also wanted the Council to review its procedures for handling residents’ parking concerns.

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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. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  3. 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:
  • considered Mr X’s written complaint and supporting papers;
  • talked to Mr X about the complaint;
  • asked for and considered the Council’s comments and supporting papers about the complaint;
  • shared the Council’s comments with Mr X;
  • shared a draft of this statement with Mr X and the Council and considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. The Council is a traffic authority and has a duty to manage its local road network to secure the expeditious movement of traffic. As a traffic authority, the Council has legal powers to make traffic regulation orders (TROs) to control use of its roads. A TRO may restrict and regulate parking on roads. For example, a TRO may introduce a residents’ parking scheme that effectively gives priority to residents where there is competition for on road parking. In deciding whether to introduce such a scheme, traffic authorities must consider and balance the needs of all road users, including those whose parking will be ‘displaced' and may cause congestion on other local roads.
  2. Making a TRO can take a long time and may be expensive. Key stages in making a TRO include:
  • consulting bodies such as transport operators and local emergency services;
  • publishing a ‘notice of proposals’ in a local newspaper;
  • taking other appropriate steps to adequately publicise the proposals, which may include putting up notices in affected roads or writing to people likely to be affected by the proposals;
  • giving people 21 days to object to published proposals;
  • considering peoples’ objections (which may result in changes to the proposals);
  • formally signing and sealing the TRO;
  • publishing a ‘notice of making’ of the TRO in a local newspaper and as appropriate to ensure it is adequately publicised;
  • writing to objectors giving, where necessary, reasons for not agreeing their objection; and
  • installing the necessary traffic signs and road markings on roads to show the restrictions made by the TRO.

What happened

  1. The Council made, and later extended, a TRO for a residents’ parking scheme (RPS) that controlled parking on local streets. Mr X’s home, which has no off-street parking, is within the RPS area. Mr X had difficulties finding a parking space near his home. In spring 2018, Mr X used the Council’s website asking it to mark out three extra parking bays along his road that he said it had missed in making the RPS. The Council logged Mr X’s 2018 suggestion for consideration when it reviewed the RPS. The Council said Mr X would have received an online acknowledgement, but it did not actively reply to his 2018 contact.
  2. In autumn 2018, the Council started a review of the extension previously made to the TRO for the RPS, which included looking at logged comments about the whole RPS. The Council therefore considered the 2018 comments made by Mr X, which concerned the original scheme area. In summer 2019, Mr X again used the Council’s website to ask it to mark up three missing parking bays along his road. The Council replied to Mr X (‘Email One’) saying it could not provide parking bays without a legal order. But changing double yellow lines and parking bays along his road were part of its review of the RPS. The Council said it hoped to publicise proposals to change the TRO for the RPS by the end of the year giving people the opportunity to comment.
  3. About three months later, the Council published a ‘notice of proposals’ for a TRO affecting the RPS in a local newspaper. The Council also provided a plan showing where it placed 54 of the notices along roads within the RPS area, which included the road where Mr X lived. The Council said it also published information about the proposals on its website. Mr X did not see any published notice.
  4. It took the Council about a year to consider the comments it received to its proposals and to approve making a TRO for the RPS. The Council said the time taken was due to overall work pressures, the impact of COVID-19, and discussions about minor changes to the published proposals.
  5. A few days before the Council decided to make the TRO, Mr X followed up Email One (see paragraph 9) and asked for an update as parking problems were worsening. The Council replied about 10 days later (‘Email Two’), saying it could not give a date for carrying out the work. The Council also pointed out that a RPS did not guarantee people could park near their home as bays were available to all residents in the scheme area.
  6. In early 2021, the Council made the TRO, which included a new parking bay in a position put forward by Mr X. The Council said there was insufficient kerb space to provide parking bays in the other two locations referred to by Mr X. Before the Council carried out the necessary on site works to show the effects of the TRO, Mr X emailed the Council. Mr X asked how he could make a formal complaint as he had been waiting two years for the Council to sort out a trivial parking issue.
  7. The Council responded to the complaint referring to its RPS review. It said it would install one bay suggested by Mr X and should complete the necessary road markings within the next two months. The Council recognised its Emails One and Two had not given Mr X detailed information about the review and TRO process and apologised. It also said if Mr X had responded to its proposals and objected to the TRO omitting the two other parking bays, it would not have affected its TRO decision. But, Mr X would have received an explanation of why it would not provide those two bays (see paragraph 7, bullet point 8).
  8. Mr X found the response unsatisfactory and referred to further locations for residents’ parking bays. Mr X said the lack of parking bays undermined the RPS and meant both the Council lost parking fees and he had to regularly park away from his home, which was unreasonable. Mr X questioned whether the Council had properly processed the TRO or publicised it as none of his neighbours had seen any notices.
  9. The Council again apologised for not giving Mr X more information in response to his earlier contacts about parking bays. It said it would log his further suggestions for bays for consideration in the next RPS review. The Council also said, after two years, it could not now provide evidence of the notices its officers confirmed they had attached to lampposts in the RPS area.

Consideration

  1. Mr X complained about the time it took the Council to respond to his asking for extra parking bays along his road. Indeed, it took about three years from when Mr X first contacted the Council about adding parking bays along his road before it installed one new bay. That was a long time. However, the Council could not just mark out extra parking bays within the RPS. Rather, it had to decide whether to make a further TRO and then follow a legal procedure before it could introduce new residents’ parking bays along the road. The Council would also, as traffic authority, have competing demands on its time, and money, for carrying out traffic management measures, including making TROs. So, it would be unlikely to immediately respond to any resident’s parking requests. But it is easy to forget that many people are not familiar with detailed traffic management law and regulation. Nor will they have access to all the information and expertise used by their council to prioritise issues to manage their road networks.
  2. Here, the Council logs residents’ parking requests for consideration when making traffic management decisions on specific roads. What went wrong was the Council did not give Mr X timely information about what needed to happen before it might install extra parking bays along his road. If the Council had explained its ‘logging’ system, TRO procedures and made clear it would not immediately act on his request, it would have managed Mr X’s expectations. The failure to do this no doubt added to Mr X’s existing frustration with parking along his road.
  3. The Council’s Email One gave Mr X some information about possible changes to parking restrictions when he made contact in 2019 as it had started to review the RPS extension. And, while not indicating how long it might take, it told Mr X it hoped to publish proposals ‘before the end of the year’. The Council met this target, publishing proposals for a TRO to change the RPS in October 2019. It was another year before the Council approved making a TRO and then further months to complete the legal formalities, including providing the necessary changes to road markings. I have no reason to doubt that COVID-19 affected the delivery of services by the Council during 2020 and 2021, including its ability to process the TRO. Overall, based on the available evidence, I found no avoidable delay by the Council in the time it took to process the TRO.
  4. Mr X also complained about how the Council processed the TRO and its failure to properly address residents’ parking concerns. In line with Email One, the Council published its ‘notice of proposals’ in October 2019 (see paragraphs 7 and 9) and received representations in response. The Council provided a copy of the notice from a local newspaper but now had no photographs to also evidence notices attached to lampposts.
  5. Mr X did not contact the Council in late 2019, when it said it hoped to publish its proposals, which may have been expected given his earlier contacts. And, unfortunately, he did not see the Council’s newspaper notice nor any lamppost notice about the proposals. Mr X expressed doubt the Council had put notices on lampposts given neither he nor his neighbours saw any such notices. I carefully considered what Mr X said about the notices. However, lamppost notices are usually ‘wrapped around’ the post and, in practice, easily overlooked especially if not fixed in line with a person’s eye level. I had no grounds to doubt the Council erected lamppost notices publicising its proposals. I therefore found no fault here.
  6. When Mr X next contacted the Council in October 2020, its officers had just finished their report recommending the Council make a TRO for the RPS. The report was formally approved a few days later and before the Council sent Mr X its Email Two. The evidence showed that in deciding to make the TRO, the Council acted correctly in taking into account Mr X’s 2018 and 2019 suggestions for three extra parking bays along his road. That consideration led the Council to include one such bay in its TRO.
  7. Because Mr X did not see any notice publicising the TRO, he did not know the Council was only proposing one new parking bay. He therefore missed his opportunity to comment and object to the TRO not including the two other parking bays. However, the Council later explained its TRO did not include those bays as neither location provided its minimum 6.5 metres of available full height kerb space. If Mr X had objected to the omission of those bays, the Council would have explained that to Mr X when it made the TRO (see paragraph 7, bullet point 8). Mr X would therefore have known sooner why the Council was not providing those bays. But I saw no evidence to suggest the TRO would have included those two bays if Mr X had seen and objected to the ‘notice of proposals’. Overall, I saw no evidence the Council failed to properly process the TRO.
  8. I found no fault in the how the Council processed the TRO for the RPS, which included its consideration of Mr X’s parking bay suggestions. However, what went wrong here was the Council’s communication with Mr X. The Council did not give Mr X the information necessary for him to understand it could not just install new parking bays. Rather, the Council needed to set aside time and money to start and follow a, usually, lengthy, legal procedure to provide any parking bays. In dealing with Mr X’s complaint, the Council recognised it had not adequately responded to his contacts about parking bays. I agreed and found fault here.
  9. The lack of information was likely to have caused Mr X avoidable distress as he would likely continue to expect the Council to soon mark out the new bays. However, on balance, the apologies already provided by the Council to Mr X reasonably, appropriately and proportionately addressed that injustice.
  10. The Council said it had reminded officers of the need to reply to all contacts from residents. The Council was also considering if its website information could be improved to further clarify that changes to parking restrictions need a legal order. On balance, as the Council was already addressing the wider communication issues raised in this complaint, I found no need now to recommend service improvements.

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Final decision

  1. I completed my investigation, finding the Council had already taken suitable action in apologising to Mr X for any distress caused by its poor communication in responding to his contacts about parking bays.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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