Rumour has it there are many such roads in our part of the world …
“Owners of new homes are living on potholed roads with no street lights or rubbish collection as housebuilders and councils shun the responsibility for road maintenance.
Developers can save thousands by dodging the legal agreements that pass the roads on to local authority control, allowing builders to make roads narrower than usual, for example, and leaving homeowners to pay for the road’s upkeep or see it fall into disrepair.
People living on these unadopted streets have been forced to seek approval from road management committees before selling their homes and say it is harder to find buyers.
The government is to ban new houses from being sold on a leasehold basis to tackle onerous ground rent charges, yet owners of freehold houses on unadopted streets are being “held to ransom” by management companies that charge households up to £660 a year for road maintenance.
“We seem to be rewriting the rules on the way that roads are looked after,” says Derrick Chester, a councillor for Littlehampton and Arun in West Sussex.
Normally housebuilders have new roads “adopted” by the local authority through a legal agreement under Section 38 of the Highways Act 1980, while the sewers underneath are covered by a similar Section 104 arrangement. When the road is left unadopted, homeowners on the road are responsible for its upkeep, and often the sewers and facilities such as playgrounds and parks.
Halima Ali, 30, and her husband bought their freehold four-bedroom home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, from Persimmon, the developer, and believed that the road would later be adopted by the local council. Seven years later the streets around the 120 flats and houses remain unadopted and are deteriorating.
“The street lights have not been fixed for years, so there are areas that are in complete darkness; it is quite scary at night. A neighbour has had a problem with a sewer cover, which is in danger of collapse,” she says. “There is a children’s playground and, even though it is a public park, residents are required to maintain it. The public come and trash it and we can be made to pay for its maintenance, which is outrageous, and we are paying council tax on top.”
Another homeowner, 56, bought a three-bedroom freehold house in Kettering, Northamptonshire, from SDC Builders nine years ago. “At the time it was sold to me as a benefit, your own private neighbourhood, which would be passed into the residents’ control once the developer had left,” she says, “but, as an unadopted road, we have no street lighting, the bin men won’t come down and we are liable if anyone has an accident on the communal land.”
She has been trying to sell her home, but buyers pulled out when they found out about problems with the unadopted road.
She says that SDC Builders set up a limited company for managing the development, which was passed to residents, who elected two neighbours as directors. She was not aware that if she wanted to sell her property it would require the directors’ approval, and they have refused permission over what she says is a trivial disagreement about parking.
Christine Hereward, the head of planning at Pemberton Greenish, the law firm, says councils and highways authorities will only adopt roads if they are built to their standards. Section 38 agreements are also backed by a lump sum, sometimes running to hundreds of thousands of pounds, put down by the housing developer as a bond against the road not being finished properly. Developers receive their bond back only when the road is adopted. Ms Ali says: “Persimmon has not built our road to the required standard. The council won’t adopt it.”
Critics say developers are choosing not to enter into a section 38 agreement so that they can bypass local authority standards; roads can be narrower and car parking spaces smaller than regulations require, for example. They also save tens of thousands by not making the required bond payments.
In 2009 the government estimated that it would cost £3 billion to bring the country’s thousands of unadopted streets up to an adoptable standard. “Developers can achieve cost savings and make their lives easier. It does enable them to construct a substandard highway. It is a shortcut. To be fair to the developers, it is up to councils to enforce the standards,” says a source who did not want to be named. “There is very little sanction.”
The public come and trash the park and we can be made to pay for it
Mr Chester says councils and housebuilders are colluding over the issue because it saves both parties money. “It fits into the narrative about local authority budget cuts,” he says.
Phil Waller, a former construction manager who runs the website Brand-newhomes.co.uk, says: “I know of one development where a fire engine was unable to access a fire because of parked cars and the layout of the road.”
Unlike private roads, which are often gated, unadopted roads appear as ordinary streets. Whether the public has right of way can be uncertain. Mark Loveday, a barrister from Tanfield Chambers in London, says he frequently hears from homeowners who did not realise that their property was on an unadopted road. “What very often happens is nothing is done to the road for many years and it is only when potholes appear and someone living on the road says, ‘hang on, someone should be maintaining this road’”, he says.
Buyers of new-build homes ought to check the specifics of the road before the sale. “This is an important thing that should be flagged up by the solicitor,” says Mr Loveday. Those who are unsure about the status of their road can apply to the Land Registry for details.
Steve Turner of the Home Builders Federation, the trade association, says housebuilders are increasingly in dispute with local authorities and planning departments over the specifications of newly built roads, which is causing delays in local authorities adopting them. “The resolution typically involves the authority demanding more cash,” he says.
‘We may have to pay for the road upgrade’
Residents of unadopted streets often need to take out public liability insurance in case someone is injured on the street.
Keith Beattie used the government’s flagship Help to Buy scheme to buy his house in Haydock, near St Helens, Merseyside, from Westby Homes North West. In February 2014, when he moved in, the road was unfinished, with tarmac not properly laid and potholes filling up with water. The housebuilder went into administration in August. “The administrators have informed us that they won’t be completing the road and paths. St Helens council will not enter a section 38 until the road is brought to an adoptable standard, which it is not,” he says. “As residents, we may have to pay to have the road completed to the council’s standard.”
Source: Times, pay wall