HL Deb 02 December 2003 vol 655 cc178-80

2.54 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to legislate to abolish unadopted roads.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we have no plans to legislate to abolish unadopted roads. Whether a street should be adopted is for individual local authorities, which have the power to adopt or to contribute to the cost of making the street up to an adoptable standard.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that there are about 40,000 unadopted roads in England, although no one knows the exact number? I am sure it is about time they did. A great many such roads are sources of disease and pests and are dangerous to passers-by and people who live on them. There are not many votes per council, nor much leadership from the people living on unadopted roads so to expect councils to do much without carrots or sticks being provided by central government is quite ridiculous.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the House will recognise that this is a local matter and the responsibility of local authorities. I have figures for the United Kingdom—not just for England—of 40,000 unadopted byways and roads. That is a very large number indeed. I can quote an astonishing figure to the House: if the Government made available the necessary resources for all such roads to be made up, the cost would be £3 billion. Inevitably that is why local authorities must judge their priorities.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, will the Minister explain how one can abolish something that is unadopted?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the question put by the noble Baroness has thrown me. Local authorities can adopt three strategies with regard to unadopted roads: they can adopt such roads and take on the full costs; they can offer to help with deferment of interest payments when the frontages pay for the roads; or in the long term they can pay for the capital costs and charge just the interest payments. Local authorities have a range of options but the issue falls disproportionately on local authorities across the country and that is why they struggle to meet the demands made on them.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, on the subject of pushing costs on to local authorities, what arrangements are there for enforcing the law on unadopted roads, byways and other rights of way? I have in mind the recent traffic regulation order, the first of its kind imposed on the Ridgeway, on Smeathe's Ridge, to which the motoring organisations have objected. We have a wretched situation in which people pass the matter around from pillar to post but nothing is done.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am in danger of engaging in just such an activity. As the noble Lord will recognise, matters of planning and land utilisation are not for the Department of Transport, but for Defra. In the House in the not too distant past we have dealt with mechanical vehicles using byways which in the past have been reserved for non-motorised activity. There is a great deal of public anxiety about the issue.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the Minister has stated the three options that are open to local authorities in relation to unadopted roads in their areas. Does he agree that negotiating with the frontage holders on whether the roads are bad enough to require treatment and on who will pay (how much the frontage holders will pay and how much the local authorities will pay) are matters for local authorities? Surely that is what local government is for.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, it is, as the noble Baroness has described. However, we should have some respect for the difficulties that face our colleagues in local government. Not all frontage holders on a road that may merit adoption in the eyes of some speak with one voice. There is the problem of defining a majority and imposing on a minority a cost to which they objected in the first instance.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, will my noble friend advise the House of the extent of the problem by telling noble Lords how small the proportion of unadopted roads is as compared with all roads?

Lord Davies of Oldham

No, my Lords. I cannot do that as a percentage of the highways of Britain. What I can do—and as I sought to do when the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked his Question—is to confirm the latest figure that we have for the United Kingdom of 40,000 unadopted roads. Of course in some local authorities there are few and in others, for all kinds of historical reasons, there are many. Any colleague from another place from a northern constituency will attest to the fact that many roads remain to be adopted where in the past small coalmines had very limited access and miners had their cottages built close to the mines. For the local authority concerned, which often is not well endowed, this causes a great number of real problems.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, does the Minister recall those lines of Betjeman's poem: By roads 'not adopted', by woodlanded ways,

She drove … [into Camberley] in the soft summer haze,…

We sat in the car park till twenty to one

And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn"? Those lines suggest that some good can come of the subject matter of the Question.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the only response is "Follow that". I reassure the noble Lord that poetic inspiration will not be lacking for the absence of unadopted roads in the foreseeable future.

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