HL Deb 26 November 1992 vol 540 cc1064-7

4.9 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th October be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the draft order amends the Private Streets (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which is the legislative base dealing with all aspects of private streets matters in Northern Ireland. It contains provisions to amend the powers and duties of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, as road authority, and the responsibilities of developers in certain matters relating to the planning, construction and subsequent adoption of private streets. The amendments will bring Northern Ireland legislation broadly into line with corresponding legislation in Great Britain.

The effect of the draft order will be to introduce changes in five distinct areas. Firstly, Northern Ireland is at present the only part of the United Kingdom where the cost of lighting in private streets is met by the road authority. Article 3 effectively places responsibility for the provision of street lighting in new developments upon developers or, in the case of existing streets which are to be adopted, upon the owners of adjoining land.

Secondly, under existing planning legislation the department's current policy provides that where new developments cannot be accommodated except by improvement of the existing public road—for example, the provision of a footway or road widening —developers may be required to carry out the necessary improvements works. The provisions in Article 4 do not represent a departure from this practice.

Thirdly, under Article 5 the department will be empowered to stop up or temporarily close any street which has been constructed before or in contravention of planning permission.

Fourthly, in recent years there has been some pressure from the private housing sector, particularly at the more expensive end of the market, to permit completed streets to remain private rather than become public roads. Article 7 will enable the department, on request, to permit certain streets in new developments to remain private while continuing to ensure that such streets are built to a proper standard.

Finally, under Articles 6, 8 and 9 the procedures for dealing with expenses are modified and extended to include the costs of inspecting street works and the registration of various statutory charges. These changes basically reflect the general principle of recovering expenses from the responsible party and follow the widely accepted consumer pays philosophy.

The proposal for this draft order was circulated for comment to a wide variety of interested parties, including all district councils and relevant representative bodies. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th October be approved. —(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, once again I would like to thank the noble Earl for explaining clearly and succinctly his five main objects. I hasten to confirm that this Front Bench is pleased to support the order.

I should like to thank the Department of the Environment for having kept the opposition spokesmen well informed about the discussions on the draft order. In view of the criticism which I levelled earlier at the inadequacies of the consultation procedures in one department it is only fair that I should congratulate the Department of the Environment on the procedure it has adopted in respect of this narrow order. The department issued a statement setting out a clear summary of the general points of principle which have been raised in the consultation, together with helpful comments. That means that we know the pros and cons of the order. We have here an attempt at improving accountability to Parliament, which I am sure the whole House will welcome.

I should be content if the Minister would throw light on just one matter of detail. I have mentioned it to the noble Earl. Under Article 5 the department is given a new power to stop up or temporarily close any street in prescribed circumstances. We agree that it should be given that power and we assume that the party who will be affected by its exercise will be given adequate written notice of the department's intention. Can the Minister confirm that?

If so, what will be the duration of the notice? How will it be served? Will the developer have the right of appeal? If so, who will determine it? Furthermore, what would be the position if the developer is bankrupt, if the developer no longer has a lawful right of access to the land, or if the owners of adjoining houses request the department to exercise or not to exercise, as the case may be, the new power?

I am sure that those points of detail arising from Article 5 can be clarified very quickly by the Minister.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl for his introduction to the order. I should like to ask two brief financial questions. First, the order states that the DoE should secure a guarantee from the contractor by the means of a guarantee bond and that the need for a guarantee bond is demonstrable. I can quite understand that if the contractor goes bust insurance becomes important. For example, Down View Road in Green Island, Antrim, has never been made up as a result of the contractor going broke before 1973. It thus effectively remains a cart track. Therefore, the question of insurance is important. But the order goes on to say: or by any other means acceptable to the Department". I should be interested to know what other means would be acceptable to the department in terms of a contractor guarantee.

The other financial question is this. Accepting that essentially the Government are carrying out some tidying up here, I hope that they are satisfied that the additional burden that this measure places on the construction industry, at a very difficult time for the industry, is justified. It has been estimated that it could, for example, add £500 or so to the price of a house or else the cost would have to be swallowed by the contractor concerned. Is the noble Earl confident that this is the right time to go ahead with the order?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, again, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for their helpful comments on this particular order. Perhaps I may take the question of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, first. He asked whether it was possible that the exercise of the power to stop up or temporarily close a street could deny access to occupied homes. This provision will essentially serve as support for existing enforcement powers and should prove to be a useful deterrent, in particular against persistent offenders. It will be used with caution, usually in the early stages of a development, and certainly not in circumstances where access to occupied houses could be denied.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also asked whether there would be a right of appeal against a closure notice issued under Article 5. The answer is no. As the power of closure would only be applied in the early stages of a development prior to the occupation of houses notice of appeal is not considered appropriate.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, asked, among two or three questions, what other means of guarantee there are. The answer is cash or insurance bond. Perhaps, with the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, I may be allowed to answer his other questions, which will require a little consideration, in writing as soon as I possibly can.

On Question, Motion agreed to.