HL Deb 17 May 1961 vol 231 cc711-9

7.55 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Amendment as to liability of frontagers in respect of street works in part of private street]:

LORD TEYNHAM moved to add to the clause. () Where planning permission is given either for the erection of a private dwelling or industrial premises on an unadopted road, which is in the opinion of the Minister of Transport unsuitable to carry the existing traffic, the street works authority must exercise their powers to take over the road in accordance with Part IX of the Highways Act, 1959.

The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to ensure that a local authority must take over an unadopted road before giving further planning permission if, in the opinion of the Minister of Transport, the road is already unable to carry existing traffic. There are many cases in the country where unadopted roads are in an appalling and dangerous state and quite unsuitable to carry any traffic at all. In Worthing, for instance, the local paper, the Worthing Herald, has produced a very good survey, illustrated by photographs and headed, "The Scandal of the Town's Unmade Roads." I would open it to your Lordships to show the scandal of these unadopted roads: they are really in a most appalling state. Yet there are cases where local authorities continue to give planning permission for the erection of more houses and more industrial premises on these very dangerous roads.

As your Lordships are aware, the whole matter is governed by the Public Health Act, 1875, and the Private Street Works Act, 1892, consolidated, I think, in the Highways Act, 1959. But the fact remains that the local authority have a discretion—I repeat, "a discretion"—under these Acts as to when they should exercise their power to take over these roads. The result is that in many cases nothing has been done for this class of roads for many years. They go from bad to worse; more buildings are erected; traffic increases and the roads become quite unusable. As I said during the Second Reading of this Bill, the matter is one of the scandals of modern times, and I am determined to try to put it right. It is true that only a small minority of people and industry are concerned in this matter, but surely it is right that they should receive justice where justice is certainly due. It may be that my Amendment, as drafted, is quiet unsuitable, and that this particular Bill is not perhaps the best vehicle to deal with the matter. I shall certainly be quite ready to listen to the views of the Minister who is to reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, but I certainly do not propose to let the matter drop. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 26, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Teynham.)


I am very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for being brief on this matter, concerning which he said something to us on the Second Reading of the Bill. He knows quite well that we are trying to remove an anomaly which, from the very nature of his own observations, is something which ought to be removed in the interests of those people who are concerned in the making up of unadopted roads. In a great city which I used to represent in the other place we have had a great experience of unadopted streets, and I am sorry to hear about the difficulties that the noble Lord has illustrated from Worthing. Apparently they have the wrong political policy operating in that particular Conservative town: whereas a great deal has been done to remove many of the difficulties by what has now been for, almost, 30 years the Labour-controlled Council in the City of Sheffield. In this case the Council is moving, with the support of all Parties, including both the Labour and the Conservative members of it, to correct this particular anomaly. I would not try to make a political argument with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, except to agree with him that this is not the Bill in which he should try to get major Amendments of the kind he has suggested. What I want to see is this Bill passed to remove the anomaly which has arisen since the passing of the 1959 Act.

8.0 p.m.


I think we are all very conscious of the deep interest of my noble friend Lord Teynham in this matter. Nevertheless, I would suggest that your Lordships should perhaps resist his first Amendment this evening. I say that on a number of grounds. The first is that I think he has painted possibly an unduly drastic picture of the present position. There are black spots, but they are being removed, or are planned to be removed, very quickly.

I might point out to him something of which I am sure he is well aware; that nowadays new streets are usually made up by estate developers to a standard in which the local authority will adopt them. Or, alternatively, under the advance payments code the developer pays or secures a sum estimated to cover the eventual cost to the local authority of making up the street. Thus, the 54,000 existing private streets are very largely a legacy of the past. I do not think we want to argue where the fault lies in the past, but they are a legacy of the past. In my remarks on Second Reading of the Bill, I said that local authorities planned to make up 24,000 of them in the next ten years, covering 2,600 miles of the 6,000 miles which they cover. That means that within ten years nearly half of the residual problem should be dealt with.

The second reason why I ask your Lordships to resist my noble friend's Amendment is that it will, I feel, in certain instances take the decision whether or not private streets should be made up out of the hands of the people on the spot, in whose hands it now resides. It is possible that some local authorities may not be pressing ahead as fast as some of your Lordships would like, but I do not think that is the general picture. May I take a rather random example or two? Bradford's ten-year programme amounts, I think, to over £1,500,000. Sheffield's programme amounts to £630,000. Canvey Island (I do not know who controls it) has a five-year programme amounting to over £1 million. And poor Worthing Rural, which I think was referred to by my noble friend, has a programme for ten years amounting to £466,000. I cite these rather random examples merely to show that local authorities are pressing ahead with this matter. Indeed, some ratepayers may feel they are pressing ahead, in certain instances, too fast. Be that as it may, the Government very firmly hold the view that the question of making up private streets is essentially a local one, and that it is right to leave to local people proper discretion in this matter.

The final reason why I should ask your Lordships to resist my noble friend's Amendment is that it does hitch a very important change of principle on to a modest little Bill designed to put right what is, so far as I know, a purely local anomaly created by the Highways Act, 1959. For these reasons, I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw his Amendment, having ventilated this point this evening.


I appreciate the remarks made by the noble Earl who has replied on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, but I cannot say that I am very pleased with them. I agree that perhaps this Bill is not the vehicle to deal with the matter, but I should like to return to it in another form later. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD TEYNHAM moved to add to the clause: () If the proportion of the rates received by a local authority from the ratepayers on an 'unadopted road' is equitable to the interest on the capital required to make up the road—with special reference to the Minister of Housing and Local Government's circular headed 'road research' No. 26—the local authority must take over the road at no charge to the ratepayers in the unadopted road affected.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is linked to the previous one, but deals with the question of finance. At the present time, the local authorities have discretion to levy charges on householders and industries to cover the cost, or part of the cost, of making up an unadopted road. During the Second Reading of this Bill I pointed out that these charges could be levied on the unfortunate ratepayers who were living on an unadopted road when the road was taken over. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that ratepayers living on an unadopted road are not called upon to meet the cost if the proportion of rates received by the local authority is sufficient to meet the interest on the capital required to make up the road. It is, of course, true that not all the rates paid are applicable to roads. In many cases householders and industries have been paying rates for a great number of years and nothing has been done to improve their road conditions.

During the Second Reading debate on this Bill, the Minister who replied for Her Majesty's Government said—and I think he said it again to-night—that according to a recent survey there were 57,000 unadopted roads in this country.


Fifty-four thousand.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon; 54,000. He also said that 27,000 of these roads are to be made up over the next ten years. Why ten years? Why not now? He further stated that the total cost would be around £75 million. But what he did not say to your Lordships was that the greater part of this sum would be extracted from the unfortunate ratepayers and would not be a charge on the local authority. In fact, the Urban District Councils' Association are not really averse to this payment, because only recently they issued a circular in which they said the councils were quite willing to increase their payments towards unadopted roads.

I hope the Minister who will reply this evening will not again put forward the argument that the value of a householder's property is reflected in the road charges which might be levied against him. Many householders have been in the same house for a great number of years—houses which were in fact bought by relatives many years ago—and therefore they are quite unaware that such a charge exists. That situation may lead to great hardship when the road is taken over. I understand that the Minister of Housing and Local Government recently carried out a survey of the working arrangements for the making up of unadopted roads, and came to the astonishing conclusion that there was no ground for any change in the law relating to them. I think he even went further and stated, in his reply to a Question put in another place, that there was no evidence of dissatisfaction or complaint against the present law. On the con- trary, I would say that there is every reason for a change in the law so that householders cannot be harshly treated, as the whole matter is left at the present time, as I said before, to the discretion of a local authority.

It may well be that my Amendment, as drafted, does not fully meet the case I have in mind, but I suggest that it does point out and make quite clear what the principle is. I certainly do not expect Her Majesty's Government to accept it in its present form, but I hope they will look at the whole matter a little more closely. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 26, at end insert— ("() If the proportion of the rates received by a local authority from the ratepayers on an 'unadopted road' is equitable to the interest on the capital required to make up the road—with special reference to the Minister of Housing and Local Government's circular headed 'road research' No. 26—the local authority must take over the road at no charge to the ratepayers in the unadopted road affected.")—(Lord Teynham.)


Again I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for being so brief, because this is the kind of Amendment that would otherwise entail quite long debate and discussion. I think it is also a matter which is perhaps better brought forward on a differently drawn Title to a Bill than the Bill before us. I may say, however, in reference to what the Minister, speaking for the Government side on Second Reading, said, that I see a great deal down in Essex, especially in the urban district in which I live, of the illustrations which could be brought to bear in support of the Minister's remarks.

A great many houses are being built on unadopted places. The price which people are paying for the land, compared to the price of land sold within a building planned area where the roads are made up, is very considerable. On the other hand, if the road charges, when they arise out of the adoption of unadopted roads, were to fall on the local authority alone, it would be adding considerably to the capital value of the property but with the cost of the improvement being borne entirely by the public authority. I should like to warn the noble Lord, in fairness, that if this question comes up on another Bill, it will have to be carefully examined and debated. In the circumstances, I hope that he may follow the example he took on the first Amendment, and that having ventilated his opinion on the matter, he will not pursue it on this Bill.


I fear that I am not able to give my noble friend any more support for his second Amendment than I was able to give for his first. As we see it, this Amendment would require a street works authority, in certain circumstances, to make up and adopt a private street at the expense of the general ratepayers. This would represent a major departure from the long-established principle that the owners of property with a frontage to a private street are responsible for maintaining or making up that street. That is the position which has obtained in principle since 1835, and it is that position which my noble friend's Amendment would change, and change radically.

As I hinted in my remarks on the Second Reading of this Bill, I feel that your Lordships should resist this Amendment—for two primary reasons. The first derives from the survey, which we have talked about this evening, commissioned by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That survey was commissioned precisely to find out whether the existing arrangements do cause general or widespread hardship. The broad conclusion of this survey was that they do not. As a result, my right honourable friend decided that there were no grounds for any fundamental change in the existing arrangements and that the present law was flexible enough, if administered sympathetically, to avoid hardship or injustice. Moreover, as my noble friend knows, the Minister has more recently taken steps to bring to the notice of local authorities the various ways and means by which they can ease the lot of the frontager who may have special problems or difficulties.

Why has my right honourable friend decided against any fundamental change in the existing arrangements? I think that the basic reason can be simply stated. The present owners of property on those streets which have been con- structed since 1835 and have since been adopted—and that means by far the greater number of residential streets in nearly all our towns—have paid at some time or another, either directly or as a conscious or unconscious element in their purchase price, their share of the cost of making up those streets. Moreover, as a result of the Advanced Payments Code we can be pretty sure that the owners of nearly all property on streets constructed in future will also have to meet this liability. How then can one really justify granting, as it were, exemption to the owners of houses which front on the 54,000 streets which, some times quite fortuitously, have not yet been made up, when all other ratepayers have, or will have in one way or another, to accept this liability? I think that that covers the general position.

The second reason why I suggest to your Lordships that we should not agree to this Amendment is the same procedural one which I mentioned a moment ago. The Amendment proposed by my noble friend amounts to a basic change of principle. I hope that your Lordships will agree that this basic change is not warranted. Even if it were, however, I think that your Lordships—indeed, my noble friend has suggested the same—would feel that this little Bill is too light a vehicle to carry this heavy change of principle. Therefore, in the circumstances, I hope that my noble friend will be able to see his way to withdraw this Amendment, too. But in suggesting this to him I should like to make it clear that my right honourable friend will pay close attention to the arguments which have been advanced in your Lordships' House this evening, and in particular to those of my noble friend.


I appreciate the remarks of the noble Earl who has replied for Her Majesty's Government. I could keep your Lordships a long time describing the many hard cases that have been put before me in recent weeks. I think that perhaps we might even one day arrive at a compromise. I can think of one compromise now: we could lay down that the minimum period for the repayment to a local authority of the cost of making up a road to frontagers should be 25 years. That would go a long way to meeting some of the cases of hardship. But as I said before, I hope to deal with this matter in another form, and therefore I now beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of May 11), Bill read 3ª, and passed.