HC Deb 29 July 1960 vol 627 cc224-6W
Colonel Beamish

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, if the survey which he put in hand on private street works arrangements has been completed; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. H. Brooke

The survey has now been completed. It shows that there are at present about 54,000 private streets, that they are widely distributed throughout the country, and that during the next ten years local authorities hope to make up 24,000 of them at a total cost of some £75,000,000.

Local authorities may make up private streets under either the 1875 code or the 1892 code. The codes have to some extent been assimilated under the Highways Act, 1959, but there remain certain differences between them, the most significant being that under the 1875 code apportionment of the cost to front-agers is based on frontage alone, whereas the 1892 code enables the local authority to take account also of the differing degrees of benefits derived by the frontagers. Most local authorities have adapted the 1892 code, but some 200 still operate the 1875 code.

Under both codes, local authorities have power to contribute from the rates towards the cost of the works. Some £300,000 has been contributed in this way in the past three years towards costs totalling £10,000,000. Local authorities may accept payment by instalments. Under the Act of 1959, they may also contribute towards the cost apportioned to individual properties having only a flank or rear fronting the road.

The 1892 code has provision for appeal to the magistrates on a wide variety of counts and, since the 1959 Act, this applies also to the 1875 code. Under both codes appeal may also be made to me. The survey shows that, of the 110,000 frontagers who have had charges made on them in the last three years, only 4,000 exercised any of the rights of appeal open to them. In areas where appeal to the magistrates was available, less than 5 per cent. of frontagers exercised this right. Less than 1 per cent. of frontagers appealed to me.

The principle that the cost of providing new streets of a standard suitable for taking over as public highways should fall on the owners of the property which they serve has been long established and is, in my view, sound. The effect of the New Streets Acts, 1951–1957 is that the cost is now most often, borne as part of the initial cost of acquiring the property. It must be remembered that many present owners have directly or indirectly met the cost of making up the roads serving their property. Moreover the value of property served by a private street reflects the contingent liability for street works' charges, and much property has changed hands on this basis.

I am aware that, in the case of an owner who bought his property before the war, the current cost of making up private streets results in a charge which is much greater than he then expected to pay. But the survey provides no evidence either that local authorities generally adopt higher standards or incur greater costs than are reasonable, or that the cost of making up private streets has increased to a greater extent than other costs involved in owning property—for example, repair costs. Generally speaking, the higher the cost the greater the growth in value of the house when the liability has been discharged.

My general conclusions from the survey are that there is no ground for any fundamental change in the law on this subject and that the existing law, if sympathetically administered, enables equitable results to be secured and provides means of mitigating hardship in the relatively few cases where that occurs. There is no evidence of general dissatisfaction or complaint among the persons affected. Such dissatisfaction as there is would be reduced still further if all local authorities took full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the law to deal with hard cases. I propose to take this matter up with the local authority associations, with a view to guidance being given to the local authorities.