§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, I should perhaps remind your Lordships that it is a Private Member's Bill which was promoted by Mr. Martin Maddan in another place. A considerable number of Amendments were moved to the Bill there, in Standing Committee and on Third Reading, with the result, as I think, that it has been greatly improved. The purpose and effect of the Bill is to amend in certain particulars the New Streets Act, 1951, but without altering in any way the main principles of the Act. Nor does the Bill affect the general principle of private streets legislation—the Public Health Act, 1875, and the Private Street Works Act, 1892—that liability for the repair of private streets 874 rests with the frontagers; that is to say, the owners of property in such streets.
As its Long Title shows, it is a Bill "to amend the New Streets Act, 1951", and that is all it professes to be. Responsibility for the repair of private streets has always rested with the frontagers, and local authorities have power, under the Public Health Act, 1875, or the Private Street Works Act, 1892, to make up private streets and to charge the cost to the frontagers before "adopting" them; that is, before assuming responsibility for maintaining them at public expense. The object of the 1951 Act is to have this liability met in advance of building, in so far as it can be estimated at the time, instead of leaving it to fall on the frontagers at some later date when the local authority ultimately decide to take up and adopt the road.
It will be appreciated that the Act itself does not require the making up of private streets, but indirectly it facilitates their making up. It does this in several ways: first, by providing funds to meet the cost of street works in advance, and thereby reducing the amount which has to be recovered from the frontagers when the works are, in fact, carried out later on; secondly, by giving builders an inducement to make up streets while the building is in progress, by agreement with the local authority under Section 146 of the Public Health Act, 1875 (the 1951 Act expressly provides that no sum need be deposited or secured under the Act if such an agreement is entered into) and; thirdly, by Section 6 of the 1951 Act, which enables a majority of frontagers in a street to require the local authority to make it up, provided that at least one of them has paid a deposit under the Act. The present Bill, then, may be regarded as a useful measure which should facilitate the administration of the 1951 Act and remove a number of minor anomalies and practical difficulties which are liable to occur under the law as it stands.
Originally—if I may look briefly at the history of private streets—the responsibility for repairing public highways was with the "inhabitants of the parish at large". That was all very well when highways were principally a means of getting from one place to another, but with the growth of urban communities the number of streets multiplied to such an extent as to impose an intolerable burden 875 upon the parish authorities. A series of Acts of Parliament was passed, the first being the Highway Act, 1835, which provided that the highway authority should not become liable for maintaining and repairing new streets unless they were constructed in accordance with plans approved by the local authority. Further Acts followed, but the main advance was in 1875, when, by Section 150 of the Public Health Act, 1875, local authorities were authorised to require the owner of a property fronting, adjoining or abutting on a private street to carry out work in that street, and in default of his doing so (which was almost always the case in practice), the local authority could themselves do the work and recover the cost from the owner. When the works were done, the local authority, if satisfied with them, could voluntarily take over the street or, after the passing of the 1951 Act, they could be made to take it over at the instance of more than half the frontagers.
Section 150 of the 1875 Act is still used by many local authorities, but others have adopted a later Act, the Private Street Works Act, 1892, whereby a local authority may resolve to make up a private street and have power to contribute towards the cost of the work, with more flexible power of assessing the expense to the frontagers than was given them under the earlier Act. I would point out that under both these codes the initiative in making up the street rests with the local authority. Prior to 1951, there was no way in which a frontager could compel the local authority to take action.
The advent of the speculative builder, who sold houses built by him "free of street charges" without, in fact, providing protection to purchasers against future charges, and then perhaps disappearing from the scene before the time came for the street to be made up, was a direct factor in the introduction in 1951 of the Bill which became the New Streets Act. This Act requires builders to pay or secure the payment of the estimated cost of making up a "new street" to the satisfaction of the local authority before they are permitted to put up any building with a frontage to that street. The Act does this by preventing any work until the landowner has paid to the local authority, or has secured the payment to the local authority of, the estimated cost 876 of making up that part of the street which will run in front of the proposed building. Experience of operating this Act has revealed a number of defects which the present Bill aims at putting right.
Clause 1 of the Bill has two purposes. First, it covers the case where frontagers themselves do work to the street between the time the builder has paid a deposit or given security to the local authority and the time when the local authority come to make up the street. If, during this period, any work is done by the frontager (perhaps the most usual work so done is to make a concrete or other substantial carriage way which it is believed will comply with the requirements of the local authority), then, if that work is of permanent value, the local authority are empowered under the first part of Clause 1 to pay to the person who does the work all the money deposited, or such part as they think represents the value of the work done, and consequently represents the reduction in the outstanding liability of the owner of the land for street works charges. If the person who did the work is no longer the owner of the land, then the owner must be given notice of the local authority's intention to make the payment or to release the security; and the owner is to be allowed to make representations to the local authority on this point. The second part of Clause 1 provides for a fair division of the liability where land in respect of which a deposit has been made, or security has been given, is divided into separate ownerships.
Clause 2 was added at the Report stage in another place, and relates to the adoption of a street where work has been done otherwise than at the expense of the local authority. Under certain of the private street works codes it is not possible for a local authority conveniently to adopt a private street as a highway repairable by the inhabitants at large, unless they have themselves carried out the private street works therein. The object of this clause is to enable a street to be taken over by the local authority as a public street where action has been taken under the Act of 1951 and any street works are subsequently carried out to the satisfaction of the local authority. It will be at the discretion of the local authority, though not at their expense, whether or 877 not they take action under this clause, and it is accordingly a desirable addition to the Bill.
Clause 3 is intended to remove the doubt which at present exists as to whether, once some steps have been taken with a view to having a street made up under the New Streets Act, 1951—for instance, the payment of a deposit—it remains possible for the local authority to make an agreement with the builder to have the street made up at the builder's expense, without having to follow the rest of the procedure under the 1951 Act. It has always been possible for such an agreement to be made, because Section 146 of the Public Health Act, 1875, provides that a local authority may agree with any person for the making up of a street at that person's expense, with the intention that, when made up, the street shall become a public highway. It is very desirable to keep this power under which both parties can make an agreement, but if a deposit is made or a security is given under the 1951 Act, doubt at present exists as to whether any such agreement can subsequently be made. This doubt will be removed by the enactment of Clause 3.
Clause 4 is intended for the protection of purchasers of land in respect of which he New Streets Act, 1951, has been brought into operation. At first sight, it would appear that what is done under the 1951 Act creates an obligation only as respects the owner of the land when the plan is deposited in accordance with the building by-laws and the local authority give notice under Section 2 of the sum to be deposited or secured before the building is commenced. If this were strictly the case, there would be no need for an entry in the local land charges register, which is primarily a register of continuing liability. It must be remembered, however, that a building plan may be deposited and approval secured by one owner of a piece of land, and the benefit may be transferred with the land and the building actually erected by some successor in title. In these circumstances, the liability to make the deposit or give the security passes with the benefit of the building consent.
Normally, the approval of a local authority under building by-laws remains operative for three years, by the end of which the building must have been commenced. Land can, however, change 878 hands several times in a period of three years, and in view of the provisions which this Bill is making for the refund of deposits and the release of securities, it is important that purchasers should know the state of the account as regards the plot which they are buying. They will want to know whether the local authority have passed a resolution exempting the plot from the provisions of the 1951 Act, and, if not, the amount required by the local authority's determination under Section 2 of that Act. They will want to know whether any money has been put down or any security has been given, and whether any part of it has been repaid or released. That is the information which they may expect to find in the local land charges register. This clause will enable them to find it there.
To pass to Clause 5, under the 1951 Act, when a sum of money was deposited by a builder with a local authority, interest on that deposit, at 3 per cent. per annum, was payable by the local authority. Clause 5 of this Bill does two things. It provides that where part of a deposited sum of money is repaid, the local authority have only to continue paying interest on the balance they retain. It also provides that the rate of 3 per cent. shall vary from time to time to correspond with the rate charged by the Public Works Loan Board for the time being.
Clause 6 covers a number of points, and is not so complicated as at first it may appear. The first objective, dealt with in subsection (1), is to enable a local authority to exempt proposed buildings from the provisions of the 1951 Act where the street in which the buildings are to be put up is in so satisfactory a state that the local authority would not feel justified in making up that street in advance of others of greater need in that area. At present, the 1951 Act has sometimes to be put into operation in respect of streets where, because the street is in a satisfactory condition, it is unlikely that work to the street itself will be carried out for a long time. This means that builders or landowners find that they have money or securities tied up for an indefinite period.
The second objective is to cover the case of what I may call the trading estate, which is found throughout the 879 country, where, clearly, there will never be any occasion for the local authority to take over certain streets because the firms concerned invariably make up the streets themselves. Subsection (1) of this clause would empower a local authority in such cases to exempt these streets on industrial estates from the provisions of the 1951 Act.
The third point with which Clause 6 seeks to deal is to enable a local authority, having once served a notice under the 1951 Act requiring a builder to deposit a sum or give security to a certain amount, to serve a further notice at any time varying that sum or the amount of that security if the local authority feel that the original demand was excessive. Subsection (2) seeks to effect this. The subsection also provides that the subsequent notice may be served on the owner of the land and not necessarily on the same person on whom the original notice was served. This meets the case where the owner has sold out, or is dead.
Subsection (2) of Clause 6 covers a further point. It gives to an owner served with an amended notice varying the amount of the deposit the same time limit for appealing as he already has for appealing against the original notice. Subsections (3) to (5) of Clause 6 are consequential on other provisions in the Bill, and I need not trouble the House with the points, which are merely consequential amendments of the principal Act. Subsection (6) of Clause 6 empowers local authorities to require information as to the ownership of premises in order to enable them properly to serve notices under the Act. There is already power under Section 277 of the Public Health Act, 1936, for a local authority to obtain information as to ownership of land to enable them to serve notices under the Public Health code, and it may reasonably be said, I think, that the 1951 Act in a general way forms part of that code, so that local authorities ought to be able to exercise their powers to obtain information in relation also to the 1951 Act. This subsection (6) of Clause 6 proposes to do.
Subsection (7) of Clause 6 concerns the application of the 1951 Act to rural 880 districts. That Act empowers the Minister, on application by a county council, and after consulting the rural district councils concerned, to apply the Act to a rural district council. This subsection will enable the Act to be applied to a part of a rural district if that be thought to be desirable. There is, I think, only one other subsection I need mention and that is subsection (8) of Clause 6, which provides for the extension of the 1951 Act to land proposed to be laid out as a street in the future. The 1951 Act at present does not cover the case where a plan is deposited for the building of a house on a defined plot in a field but no plan has been deposited for the street on which that house is to front or abut. Subsection (8) would make the Act apply in such a case. In other words, projected streets will be covered as well as existing ones. Clause 8 (3) provides that the Bill shall come into force three months after the date of its passing. This Bill, my Lords, will protect the interests of the householder and will help the local authorities in the efficient performance of their public duties. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Milverton.)
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, I would only add on the Second Reading of this Bill that my right honourable friend the Minister thinks it would be advisable that your Lordships should give this measure a Second Reading. My noble friend behind me has explained the Bill in great detail, and I think there is nothing else for me to add at the present stage of the proceedings.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, so far as we on this side are concerned, we thought it was a simple little Bill which would make a very worthwhile amendment to the principal Act. We shall not impede its progress on to the Statute Book.
§ On Question Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.