Surge in complaints to West Lothian Council driven by Spaces for People measures

Lockdown may have led to quieter streets – but also a surge in complaints to West Lothian Council, after the Spaces for People measures sparked a wave of protest.

By Stuart Sommerville, LDR
Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 10:16 am
An example of Spaces for People measures in West Lothian, at this Bathgate bus stop.
An example of Spaces for People measures in West Lothian, at this Bathgate bus stop.

The number of complaints to the council’s roads department more than doubled last year, with the majority of related to measures brought in as a result of the pandemic.

The figures were revealed in the annual complaints performance report presented to the council’s Partnership and Resources PDSP.

The report by Project and Systems Manager Joe Murray highlighted “a large increase in Roads and Transportation Services complaints when compared to the previous year”. The number of complaints increased from 165 in 2019/20 to 461 in 2020/21.

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He added: “Roads and Transportation Services received a total of 288 Policy complaints and the main complaint themes related to their Spaces for People programme and the Winter Maintenance activity.”

The council began taking complaints within weeks of the Spaces for People work starting in communities across the county.

New speed restrictions to 20 mph were introduced through the county and roads were narrowed around bus stops, creating congestion in town centres such as Bathgate.

A petition against the 20mph zones attracted thousands of signatures, demanding the council scrap them.

The Spaces for People programme was introduced and funded by the Scottish Government at the height of the pandemic to encourage healthier environments and safer roads for cyclists and walkers.

While some changes introduced have been accepted, the programme as a whole remains controversial.

The council’s Operational Services department also faced criticism after a harsh January saw grit bins left unfilled as householders struggled to clear paths and driveways around their homes.

The council was forced to review both Spaces for People and their winter operations after Conservative councillors joined with the SNP opposition in calling for changes.

One encouraging figure for officials was that complaints to other departments, including in the housing department, were down.

Housing Customer and Building Services had the largest numerical decrease in complaints from 911 in 2019/20 to 757 in 2020/21.

The number of complaints across council service areas varied significantly, with 55 per cent (1,576) of all complaints being recorded against Operational Services to 0.45 per cent (13) in Corporate Services.

Of the seven service areas that deliver the council’s activities and functions, six had a reduction in customer complaints and one had an increase in the number of complaints closed compared to the previous year.

Operational Services increased the number of complaints closed over 2020/21 from 1,290 in 2019/20 to 1,576 in 2020/21.