Clause 15

Housing and Regeneration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 15th January 2008.

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Adoption of private streets

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

I beg to move amendment No. 99, in clause 15, page 7, line 30, at end insert—

‘(8) any resident of a private street may submit a request to the HCA for the adoption of that street.’.

I have tabled the amendment with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, who is on his way. He is also preparing for Government, as we speak. The clause is about the adoption of private streets. It is quite comprehensive in the outline of the requirements for the HCA in that regard, but one thing seems to be missing. There does not seem to be an explicit provision to enable any resident of a private street to submit a request to the HCA for the adoption of that street.

The amendment is born out of a recent experience I had in my own constituency, where the residents of a street in the town of Caersws were desperate for it to be adopted. There was a very strong case for it, but I do not need to go into the details. I had the greatest difficulty convincing the local authority that it was a good idea.

The clause, with the amendment, provides the opportunity of a formal avenue for residents to pursue in order to have their street adopted. Unfortunately for the people of Caersws, the legislation applies only to England, so it is an act of altruism on my part. Should the Minister accept the amendment, I shall seek to lobby the Welsh Assembly to introduce something similar. I hope that the Minister will give a considered response to the logic behind it.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Ministry of Defence

I have some sympathy with the point that the hon. Gentleman was making. However, I suspect that going from the current situation, in which it is almost impossible to get unadopted roads adopted, to one where residents can simply request that they are adopted and it is done, is too much distance to travel in one Bill.

The Minister will know that, in constituencies such as mine, where there is a huge legacy of houses being bought from commercial quota but streets not being adopted, there is a problem of unadopted roads. I am glad to see the provisions in the clause, even though the circumstances are limited. Any provisions that allow some unadopted streets to be adopted is a move in the right direction. Will he confirm that it is the HCA’s responsibility to identify such streets and to ensure that they are adopted by the relevant street works authority?

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I will take my hon. Friend’s point first, which is an interesting one. My constituency is relatively close to the City of Durham, which is in a beautiful part of the world. I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing with regard to affordable housing, often against the wishes of the local authority. I think that she has her finger on the pulse in terms of what her local constituents want, rather more than the local authority has, whose political complexion I cannot quite remember at the moment.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham raises an interesting point. I have a number of ministerial hats. I have responsibility within the Department for coalfields regeneration. I also have senior responsibility for the housing market renewal areas.

I was in Stoke recently with that hat on, where, in relation to development in the housing market renewal pathfinder area, people were talking about difficulties that they were having with regard to the former National Coal Board. I think that I, and ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport, need to look into that matter, because a common pattern seems to be emerging on former coal sites—whether they need to be adopted and what the agency could do in that regard. I shall be happy to report back to my hon. Friend, who I thank for raising the point, because it has clicked into place for me other pieces of the jigsaw, for which I am grateful.

The amendment is unnecessary, because there is nothing now to prevent residents of a street asking the highways authority to adopt their street, whether they ask directly, or ask the Homes and Communities Agency to intercede on their behalf. However, I suggest that stating in the Bill that they may submit such requests to the agency would probably—the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire might counter this—raise an unrealistic expectation that the agency will act on their request and serve an adoption notice on the street works authority. Furthermore, it could increase the risk that the agency could be seen as an unofficial appeals process when a street works authority refuses the residents’ request. That is not the purpose of the clause, and nor do I think that it is the purpose of the amendment. The clause is intended to ensure that the investment by the Homes and Communities Agency to improve highways can be properly maintained by the appropriate highways authority. I therefore invite him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

I was the victim of the Minister’s harsh tongue earlier on, and if I may be forgiven for saying so, I regarded his response as intransigent rubbish—I feel a lot better for having said that. He said that having a formal avenue of application for residents might create an unrealistic expectation, yet every year the Budget statement creates an unrealistic expectation, and now, with the pre-Budget statement, we have two unrealistic expectations about the economy. But they are aspirational, and so is my amendment. It would mean that a member of the public—let us remember that we are doing this for the public—can see explicitly that he or she has the right to make an application to the HCA.

At the moment, under the clause, the HCA would be entitled to say to a resident, “I am afraid that we have no provision to allow you, as a member of the public, to make a formal application for adoption.” I understand that Ministers are always loth to modify any Bill on the basis of Opposition amendments, but given that we have already passed a number of Government amendments, the Minister should acknowledge that the Bill is not perfect. I am willing to withdraw the amendment on one condition: that he will, at some point in the next week, have an informal meeting with me, so that I can put my case and allow him to see the logic of my proposal, which is not party political, but common sense. If he can assure me that we will at least have that conversation, I shall withdraw the amendment—but I cannot sit down until he either intervenes, or I push the amendment to a vote.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I might go down the Hillary Clinton route and say, “I feel deeply hurt by the harsh tongue in the hon. Gentleman’s head”. It is not something that I would expect from him.

I am happy to meet with the hon. Gentleman in the next couple of days to discuss the matter. However, the point about unrealistic expectations is fixed in my mind, and he will need to be very convincing, if he is to persuade me to alter that and to introduce or accept amendments on Report. However, I am more than willing to meet with him—in fact, I desire to meet with him. I should add, given that we are talking about unrealistic expectations, that, as a Liberal Democrat, he should expect nothing less.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet with me. He might have an iron first, but at least he is extending a velvet glove. We are a very broad church, with a large tent, and I hope that we can have a serious discussion. There is merit in my proposal, and I shall present to him a range of concerns about creating unrealistic expectations. However, his is a useful offer, for which I am grateful. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 16 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.