HL Deb 11 November 2004 vol 666 cc1009-11

11.2 a.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the interest of local government, they will ensure that definitive lists of unadopted roads are compiled.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, under the Highways Act 1980 councils have a duty to keep lists of all maintainable highways in their area. There is no obligation to keep similar lists of unadopted roads. Clearly, an authority needs accurate information on maintainable highways so that it can fulfil its duties regarding such roads. While some authorities keep lists of private roads, we do not believe that there is sufficient benefit to be derived in making that obligatory.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, while almost thanking, the noble Lord for that Answer, does he realise that when a large number of citizens are without basic services, for whatever reason, at least the size of the problem should be known to both central government and the people at large?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the authority which properly needs to have information is the local authority. Power is vested in the local authority in those terms. Some local authorities keep such records with a great deal of diligence; others fulfil their duties quite adequately without being so precise. It is not a matter for central government. Central government have no role at all in relation to those private roads and that is why we do not keep information centrally.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, makes a point. The results of unadopted sewers being improperly maintained can be quite severe and I know that many local authorities have a problem with them. If one were to take that as the example, would the Minister give the same reply?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the issue of unadopted roads would still remain. Local authorities have responsibility. They know their locality and they know the problems, if any, that emerge from private roads. In the vast majority of cases there are no issues at all, but when from time to time they arise, the local authority is obliged to take some action on the frontages or, on occasions, it will adopt a road, particularly if frontages ask for that to be done. Such a decision is made locally and is not one for central government.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with me that it is highly unlikely that a local authority would not know about its unadopted roads? They are a subject of constant discussion between councillors and their constituents and a constant source of anxiety to a number of people, so local authorities know very well what unadopted roads they have.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: where unadopted roads cause problems, local councils, and particularly the councillors who represent those areas, are all too well aware of the situation. The concept of unadopted roads covers a wide category. Some unadopted roads do not affect local authorities at all. Although local authorities know of their existence because they have accurate maps of the area for which they are responsible, that does not mean that they are involved in any quantitative or qualitative analysis of any potential problems.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, are there agreed civil engineering standards for the adoptability of such roads?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, local authorities are issued with guidelines from central government on the process that they need to follow when adopting a road and that relates to the issue of incurring public costs and of the standard of the highway. On occasions, a local authority can insist that frontages make up a road to a proper standard because of the dangers of a road being so derelict that people who are not fully aware of the dereliction suffer difficulties. So standards are applied. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, those issues are solved by frontages and not by the local authority.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has not even touched on the basis of my Question, which is that it is the duty of the state as a whole to know, not necessarily about roads, but about citizens who are deprived of essential services and, therefore, it should know about unadopted roads? The central point is that the Government should know about the problems of citizens.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord may be making a case for the all-intrusive state, where the state interferes with regard to private roads when the frontages value their privacy and want to keep all public authorities at a reasonable distance. That is their right; they live on the road; it is their property and their responsibility.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many unadopted roads are also unmade roads? Many years ago when I was in another place, a constituent telephoned my home in the constituency at half-past three one morning to say that his car was stuck on an unmade road and what was I going to do about it. My wife answered the telephone, explained that I was in the Palace of Westminster, and with great presence of mind, said, "He hasn't got his digger available at the moment".

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, nevertheless, such a solicitous response only goes to show how helpful Members of Parliament can be in almost every circumstance.

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