Planning (Developer Bonds)

– in the House of Commons at 1:53 pm on 27th October 2010.

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Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon 1:55 pm, 27th October 2010

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision regarding local authority powers to require developers to deposit funds in the form of a bond to be used if the local area is not maintained properly;
and for connected purposes.

I am introducing the Bill to highlight an issue that I have previously raised in debates in Parliament and that I campaigned on actively during my 10 years as a councillor in Swindon, which relates to the lack of maintenance in unadopted areas. With housing developments set to increase substantially over the next 25 years, this is an issue that will affect any Member of Parliament who has new housing in their constituency.

When a new development takes place, all related street scene work and costs remain the responsibility of the developer until the area is adopted by the local authority. Developments are often on a large scale, and it is not unusual for an area to remain unadopted for many years. My former ward was a new build estate, growing from just 1,800 houses in 2000 to 8,500 in 2010. Throughout my time as a councillor, my postbag from fellow local residents was dominated by complaints regarding the lack of maintenance in unadopted areas-street scene issues, including those in the following three areas: incidental open spaces, such as grass verges, trees, street furniture, bushes and foliage; general street cleaning, such as that to remove litter and graffiti; and the maintenance of roads, fixing potholes, kerbstones and street lights. The last point is exceptionally apt now that the dark nights are drawing in.

A typical example, which I am sure hon. Members will have experienced, is when a resident contacts the local authority, often through the local councillor or Member of Parliament, to complain about the lack of street scene maintenance in their unadopted local area. The local authority then has to identify the relevant developer and request that the issue be addressed. That can have one of three outcomes. Ideally, the developer will take immediate action to address the street scene issues. I must stress that with many responsible and proactive developers that would be the case. However, all too often it takes repeated effort from the local authority or local residents to encourage the developer into action. In the final outcome, the developer simply never responds, or has even ceased to exist, leaving the issue unaddressed.

The frustration of local residents with the latter two scenarios is compounded by the fact they still pay the full council tax rate, which includes a contribution towards street scene works that cannot be used in an unadopted area as it remains the private land of the developer. In my constituency we have estates such as Ash Brake that have remained unadopted for 15 years. It is no wonder that residents feel they do not get the full value of their council tax when they look out of their windows to see swathes of overgrown shrubs and verges.

In fact, my last residents survey as a councillor brought in a staggering 1,200 responses to highlight outstanding street scene issues across the unadopted areas. When the local authority was unable to get the relevant developer to respond, either the issues remained outstanding or local residents formed groups such as the excellent Redhouse residents association, not just to hold developers to account but to organise action days to clear litter. I am sure that hon. Members can relate that to their own similar local experiences.

The principle of a developer bond is not new; I am proposing an extension of the powers already granted to local authorities, the first of which was granted through section 38 agreements under the Highways Act 1980. Those powers give the local authority the ability at the point of adoption to ensure that the highways infrastructure is built to an appropriate standard and is not a burden on the public purse. That covers things such as street lighting, pavement construction and drainage. However, it is relevant only when the developer is ready to seek adoption, when we often see an 11th-hour flurry of activity, as the developer is effectively forced to bring an area up to the agreed standard to allow for adoption. A section 38 agreement cannot force a developer into action before adoption, or make the developer complete the process of adoption, which is why areas in my constituency remain unadopted after 15 years.

The other power would allow for commuted sums secured through section 106 agreements. This is proving to be essential in sustaining the long-term maintenance of high-cost assets, which are often used as a wow factor by developers to generate sales, such as architectural street lighting, bridges, ponds and decorative street furniture. Without that, the standard local authority budgets would not be sufficient to maintain those items. The willingness to enter into those agreements shows that developers often appreciate the need for areas to be maintained in the long term. Those powers can be helpful and are to be encouraged, but they are limited to the stage when the roads are formally adopted for maintenance by local authorities.

My Bill would amend section 38 of the Highways Act 1980. It includes a new provision to allow local authorities to include a developer bond for the maintenance of the street scene in unadopted areas as part of a planning application. This is needed, because there are currently no powers available to local authorities to cover the transitional period between the selling of the first house and the area being adopted. In effect, I am seeking to address a discrepancy in the powers available to local authorities to ensure that estates are maintained adequately while they are unadopted.

My proposed system would allow the local authority to step in where a developer has not maintained an area to an acceptable standard, and it would then be able to recover its costs from the developer through the bond. The responsibility for maintaining the street scene would remain with developers, so my Bill would not affect developers who already maintain areas to a satisfactory standard. It would, however provide local authorities and local residents with a safety net, if the developers do not play ball. That will help when developers refuse to bring an area up to an acceptable standard for road adoption, as they will no longer be able simply to ignore the problem. The bond would not tie developers in to long-term contracts, because it would be released, often untouched, as soon as the area was adopted.

Introducing developer bonds for the period before bringing an area up for adoption will also incentivise the developers to pass the responsibility of the area on to the local authority as quickly as possible. I emphasise that there are many good, responsible developers. In fact, they share the frustration about the damage done to the reputation of new build estates. My Bill would help to increase buyers' confidence in new build areas, which will benefit both residents and developers.

In summation, this Bill will improve residents' quality of life in new build areas throughout the country. As I have mentioned, it will not affect the majority of developers, who already adopt good practice in maintaining the street scene during the transition period, but it will improve good practice among developers for the benefit of residents.

In preparing the Bill I have been grateful to hon. Members who have highlighted their shared experiences of this issue. I hope that the Bill will go some way towards helping to improve the quality of life of all residents who have paid a premium to live in a new build house.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Justin Tomlinson, Anna Soubry, Andrew Percy, Mr Robert Buckland, Andrew Stephenson, Stephen Gilbert, Caroline Nokes, Mr Philip Hollobone, Bob Blackman, Andrew Bingham, Mark Garnier and Karen Bradley present the Bill.

Justin Tomlinson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June 2011, and to be printed (Bill 99)

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