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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

Local authorities and the government should acknowledge the problems caused by unadopted roads, Mark Todd, Labour MP for South Derbyshire, said yesterday.

Opening a Westminster Hall debate, he said there were thought to be about 4,000 miles of unadopted - or 'private' - roads in the country. There had not been a survey of them since 1960, and he suggested it was time to repeat the exercise to discover the true figure. Some played an important part in the highway network and often linked two adopted highways.

People who lived alongside such roads faced several problems. They had to bear the cost of maintaining the road - until it became dangerous, at which point the local authority could help. Unauthorised parking, and dumping of cars and rubbish were other difficulties. They could also face a claim from a person who has an accident on the road.

Mr Todd acknowledged that most people who have bought houses on unadopted roads were aware they had bought into such liabilities. 'I shall explore ways in which we could deal with that, because they have something to gain from rectifying this situation, so the cost of the solution to it should not be wholly - or even largely - paid by the public', he added.

New data collected could be used in the local government funding formula to recognise the cost of repairing unadopted roads.

'Such recognition would also help strengthen the identity between the local authority and the residents of unadopted roads, which is currently sadly lacking. Most local authorities take the robust view that they are not generally a matter for their concern unless someone is likely to be badly hurt', said Mr Todd.

He said that until the introduction of poll tax and council tax living on an unadopted road was reflected in the rateable value of the property and, therefore, the rates bill.

'There is a strong argument for giving a discount to residents of unadopted roads on the part of the council tax bill relating to the highway authority. It should not be a large discount because such residents use the rest of the road network. Nevertheless, they feel that they do not get any value for the money that they pay the council for maintaining the roads outside their houses, and that should be reflected in how much they pay towards their local authority's costs', said Mr Todd.

He said unadopted roads were often in old mining towns and villages, which were built without present day care to utilities and public services. It would be a good use of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust's resources to provide mall sums towards environmental improvements gained by adopting unadopted roads.

Mr Todd said he and Caroline Flint, Labour MP for Don Valley, believed residents should be allowed to spread the cost of capital schemes to adopt their roads over several years and to be set against the value of the property on such a road when sold.

'It is undoubtedly true that the improvement of an unadopted road makes a significant difference to the value of a property, and a householder making such an investment would experience a good return. That approach should be commended to local authorities', he declared.

He said councils might have a cash flow problem if payment was deferred for many years. He suggested this could be tackled if, in co-operation with other agencies, a capital fund was established for such projects. Such a scheme would encourage local authorities to support a solution to the problem rather than giving it a low priority because they believe people knowingly buy into the problems by purchasing an affected property.

Transport minister John Spellar acknowledged the slow rate of local authorities making up private streets. In 1990, it had been estimated that it would cost more than£2bn to make up all private streets for adoption.

Local authorities had discretion to contribute from their own resources and they could allow payments by instalments. It could also wave reimbursement of the principal sum due until the property was sold and in the meantime recover from the householder the interest on the outstanding charge.

The draft local government Bill announced last week proposes to give councils new freedoms to respond to the needs of their local communities and a new capital borrowing system, which means authorities will be free to borrow without the government's consent as long as they can afford the debt.

He said the Coalfields Regeneration Trust was solely funded by government money and not set up to provide funding for large capital projects. Its priorities were to get people back to work using education, training and community enterprise. However, he assured Joan Walley, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, he would examine the trust's resources and the demands made on them. Ms Walley said it could play a tremendous role in regeneration and help to achieve its main objectives.

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