Abandoned Vehicles: Public Highways

– in Westminster Hall at 10:56 am on 12 July 2023.

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Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 10:56, 12 July 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered abandoned vehicles on public highways.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the important issue of abandoned vehicles on public highways, which unfortunately are quite common in Keighley. As I see it, it is generally an issue of antisocial behaviour. It has been raised with me at surgeries by many constituents across Keighley, Ilkley and the wider area, and I have visited streets in Keighley to see the vehicles for myself.

We are talking about vehicles that are generally unroadworthy, untaxed, uninsured and without number plates, and that have been left on the public highway for weeks, months or sometimes years. Sometimes they have engines or other parts—predominantly bumpers—missing, having been used as a roadside shop for spare parts.

The issue causes huge frustration to my constituents who have to live on the streets in question and drive past the abandoned vehicles daily, and it impacts the wider feel of Keighley. There are several streets in the centre of town on which vehicles have been abandoned, and many residents have to drive past them to get to work or school.

I want to use this opportunity to get to the crux of how we sort the issue out and get abandoned vehicles that have been left on the public highway for months, if not years, moved. It seems to me that we have the legislation in place but that it is not being utilised fully by Bradford Council. I will come on to that.

The point has been made to me that, in some cases, vehicles have been abandoned in places where they are causing a nuisance to neighbouring residential or business properties. On Brewery Street, just off Dalton Lane in Keighley, one business, which is in its third generation, is being impacted by abandoned vehicles that have been left in situ for many a year. These nuisance vehicles are causing that business problems with its day-to-day functions, because delivery lorries are unable to get in. Quite rightly, that business wants to grow and expand, but it cannot get delivery lorries in and out, because these abandoned vehicles have been left on the public highway.

One thing that always gets thrown back to me is that these vehicles are on the public highway but not an adopted public highway, and we need to understand the difference. The legislation states that “public highway” relates to that which is a private road, but the public have the ability to drive down it, whereas with a public adopted highway the council—Bradford Council—has full control over it.

Many residents have rightly contacted me because they are fed up with these abandoned vehicles and the slow progress that Labour-run Bradford Council is making in removing them. This situation is not just ringfenced to Keighley; it is a wider Bradford district problem. The Yorkshire Post reported on the issue in November 2022, when there was a concerted effort by the council in Bradford city and 90 abandoned vehicles were identified on one street alone. When the notice provisions, which I will come to, were served, various owners suddenly came out of the woodwork to claim their vehicle, despite these vehicles having been abandoned for years, with flat tyres and parts missing—I dare say that the engine probably was not even in some of them. That reduced the number of abandoned vehicles from 90 to only three, on which the council was then able to take action. We absolutely need to get to grips with this issue.

Hotspots in Keighley include Ferncliffe Drive. I met the residents there over a year ago, because they are deeply concerned. It is a private road but a public highway, and there are sometimes up to 15 abandoned vehicles, many of which have no number plates and parts missing. They are uninsured and unable even to get to an MOT centre, let alone pass the MOT. The council should be able to take action and move these vehicles on. Residents on Ferncliffe Drive are rightly getting incredibly frustrated, and the issue of Ferncliffe Drive was specifically raised at the Utley safer streets group meeting, which I was kindly invited to—I have spoken there twice, and I get invited on a semi-regular basis to provide an update on the actions I am taking. I confirmed to that meeting, which was full of concerned residents, that I would bring the issue to Parliament, and I am pleased the Minister is in her place to listen.

Another hotspot is just off Dalton Lane, which is in a residential/industrial part of town. Again, many streets off Dalton Lane are used simply to abandon vehicles. That is unfair on businesses, as I mentioned, but also on the residents of those streets. There is also South Street, which is a very busy street that is used to enter Keighley from the Worth Valley side of the constituency. Every time I have gone up to Cross Roads, Haworth and the wider Worth Valley area, I have counted three abandoned vehicles in close proximity. They have not moved since I have been the MP, which is coming up to four years. Action has to be sorted out. There is still a problem, despite me, as the MP, having raised it with Bradford Council, along with many residents and businesses.

I want to get to the crux of the powers a local authority has available to it, because Labour-run Bradford Council does not seem to be taking the actions available to it under legislation. The powers sit under section 3 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978, which gives councils—and national parks, although that does not apply to the circumstances I am describing—the ability to “remove and dispose” of abandoned vehicles. The Act also contains provisions to give local authorities the powers to issue fixed penalty notices to offenders, if the vehicles are not moved on.

The question is, what is an abandoned vehicle? An abandoned vehicle can quite easily be identified, yet the pushback I get from Labour-run Bradford Council is, “Oh, it’s very difficult to decide whether a vehicle is classified as abandoned.” Well, all it needs to do is to go on the Government website, which clearly outlines the provisions for an abandoned vehicle.

First, an abandoned vehicle is one that has no listed keeper on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database and is untaxed—information that can quickly be found by visiting the DVLA website and typing in the number plate.

Secondly, an abandoned vehicle is one that has been stationary for a significant period. I suppose the question could be, what is “significant”? Well, if a vehicle has been abandoned for over a year and has not moved, and it has flat tyres, has quite clearly not passed its MOT, and is untaxed or uninsured, that would imply a significant period of time, and it would be reasonable for the council to take action. Again, I put on record my frustration that Bradford Council is not taking the issue seriously.

Thirdly, a vehicle could be abandoned if it is significantly damaged, run down or unroadworthy or has flat tyres, for example. If the Minister would kindly come to my constituency so that I could take her to all these hotspots, she would see for herself that these vehicles should clearly be classified as abandoned. Fourthly, a vehicle can be classed as abandoned if it is burned out, and it would be perfectly reasonable for a burned-out vehicle to be moved on.

Finally, the authority may decide that a vehicle is abandoned if its number plate is missing. That is all that is needed to classify a vehicle as abandoned; it might be properly roadworthy, but if its number plate is missing, it can be classified as abandoned. I have multiple vehicles in my constituency that would be classified as abandoned, that are causing a nuisance to residents and businesses and that need to be moved on.

What duty is placed on a local authority? What powers does it have to move abandoned vehicles on? The legislation is quite clear, stating that a local authority has the ability to move on an abandoned vehicle from a public street; from a private road that is classified as a highway; from an adopted road that is classified as a highway; or from land in the open air, including private land. However, I will focus predominantly on roads, because I am getting most correspondence about abandoned vehicles on roads.

If an abandoned vehicle is on private land, the local authority is duty-bound to serve a 15-day notice period, but that notice period does not apply if the vehicle is on a public highway, so why is Labour-run Bradford Council not getting on with it? It does not need to conform to the 15-day notice period, as that does not apply if a vehicle is abandoned on a road that is classified as a highway, whether that is private or a publicly adopted road. Under the legislation, the local authority is quite rightly protected and cannot be held liable for any damage resulting in its removal of a vehicle from the public highway.

The local authority has two options, and it is incredibly frustrating that Labour-run Bradford Council is not using the opportunity available to it under the 1978 legislation. First, it could apply a penalty. Local authorities can penalise people who abandon vehicles or parts of vehicles—yes, parts of vehicles have been abandoned in Keighley, much to the frustration of local businesses and residents—on the public highway or private land; it can issue a fixed penalty notice or prosecute them. I completely understand the challenge associated with not knowing who owns the vehicle or who owns the private land, but I am focusing on vehicles abandoned on roads. If the owner of the vehicle is not known, it is right that the local authority serves a seven-day notice on it, and if nobody claims that vehicle within that time, the local authority is duty-bound to take action under the 1978 legislation. But Labour-run Bradford Council is not even serving the notice, let alone taking action when nobody comes forward to claim the vehicle after the seven-day period.

There are provisions in legislation that give my local authority the ability to move these vehicles on, but it is not doing so. It can dispose of an abandoned vehicle immediately if either of the following points applies: the vehicle is only fit to be destroyed—that is, it is classified as abandoned—or it has no number plate or tax disc. Those are easily identifiable measurables, but my local authority seems unequipped to find out whether a vehicle is properly classified as abandoned. If I were a civil enforcement officer, I would happily go round my constituency, identify all the abandoned vehicles and get them moved on, because my residents are sick to the back teeth of having to put up with such vehicles being left year on year.

If a vehicle is abandoned and we do not know who the owner is, the local authority has the ability to give that vehicle seven days’ notice. If nobody identifies the vehicle within seven days, the local authority has the ability to move it on. If the owner ever comes back to claim the vehicle, the local authority can charge them for the cost of removal and storage, which is perfectly reasonable.

That brings me to the Removal, Storage and Disposal of Vehicles (Prescribed Sums and Charges) Regulations 2008. The regulations set out how much a local authority can reclaim from the vehicle owner should they ever come to light and identify their vehicle, but I think the Minister could review them, because the removal cost is too low. For example, if a vehicle exceeds 3.5 tonnes but is less than 7.5 tonnes, and it is not upside down or on its side but in a stable position, the maximum amount the local authority can reclaim from the owner is only £200, which will not reimburse it for the cost associated with removing and disposing of that vehicle. To give the local authority its due, that is probably one reason why it is not taking much action, because the removal cost it can recoup from the owner, should they ever come and identify themselves, is only £200 in those circumstances. I do not think that is enough, and the Government could review the regulations.

The crux of this issue is that my residents and businesses, and indeed anybody who comes to visit Keighley—it is one of the most awesome constituencies to come and have a look round—have to see fly-tipping taking place. Vehicles are being left on the street, causing a nuisance to anybody who visits Keighley, resides there or wants to operate their business.

The second issue I want to address is how we challenge businesses that use the highway to park abandoned vehicles for spare parts, often for several years. I think the legislation could be toughened up, and there needs to be more focus on the ability of local authorities to take action against these businesses. Garage businesses may be parking abandoned vehicles on the highway to get spare parts, and it is unfair that they do so.

My understanding is that we have legislation in place that enables a local authority to take legal action if a business is using repair cars on the road or using the road to sell cars, but that has to be toughened up, because the only action that can be taken is issuing a fixed penalty notice, which amounts to only £100. That is nowhere near tough enough to deter businesses from using the public highway to store abandoned vehicles.

The legislation also gives local authorities the ability to take a business to court on behalf of a complainant, which relies on a resident making a complaint against the business. My residents do not have the time or the willpower to deal with that. The local authority should be empowered to take action against that business to stop it using the highway to, effectively, carry out its business by using the highway as a storage camp for its abandoned vehicles. If the matter goes to court, a magistrate can fine the business only up to £2,500. Again, that is nowhere near a strong enough deterrent.

To sum up, I am pleased that Mr Speaker has granted me time to bring to the House the important issue of abandoned vehicles on the public highway. It is an issue in Keighley and my wider constituency. Local authorities are empowered to remove abandoned vehicles, and it is incredibly frustrating that Labour-run Bradford Council does not use the powers afforded to it sufficiently. When it comes to businesses using the public highway to, effectively, store abandoned vehicles, we could go further and use tougher legislative provisions. I urge the Minister to look at the statutory instrument I referred to, so that we can bring forward much tougher fines, which will act as a deterrent.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:16, 12 July 2023

I think this is the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. It is a privilege to do so today and to follow my fantastic colleague, my hon. Friend Robbie Moore. He is clearly a champion for his constituents and is in tune with what they need to thrive and what they need for their livelihoods to prosper.

In preparing to speak in this debate, I researched some statistics and was shocked to learn that between 2020 and 2022, Bradford had the highest number of abandoned car reports outside London. That is being played out today in the way my hon. Friend cites a number of areas.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

The Minister notes that Bradford Council is one of the country’s worst-offending areas outside London with the highest number of abandoned vehicles. Does she agree that the legislative powers are there for a council to utilise? If so, does she share my frustration that Labour-run Bradford Council is not using the powers awarded to it to deal with this issue, which is blighting my constituents?

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and effective point. I am not the Minister responsible for waste at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—that is the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow—but I will recommend that she meets him and that perhaps we should consider writing to Bradford Council on that point.

As part of our environmental improvement plan, which we proudly published on 31 January, there is a clear imperative to leave the environment in a better state. That is fundamentally about halting nature’s decline by 2030 and increasing its abundance thereafter, but making sure that we have clean water, clean air and good quality soils and that we tackle waste and resources is a fundamental part of that 262-page document.

We need all councils, including Bradford Council, to play their part, and we need residents to do the same. Clearly, the issue of deliveries not being able to get to a business and Brewery Street being clogged up means that business will not be able to prosper. My hon. Friend mentioned the Utley safer streets group and some particular hotspots for abandoned vehicles, namely Ferncliffe Drive, Dalton Lane and South Street; I urge Bradford Council to make those areas a priority, as that is clearly where the focus needs to be.

My hon. Friend is right that the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act has been in place since 1978, when I was coming out of nappies, and that it allows local authorities to take action. It is a criminal offence to unlawfully abandon any vehicle

“in the open air, or on any other land forming part of a highway”.

As he said, doing so is punishable by a fine of up to £2,500 and/or three months in prison. As an alternative to prosecution, councils have the power to issue a fixed penalty of £200 to the vehicle owner. There is a clear legislative vehicle—primary legislation that has been in place for some 45 years—that councils can use.

Recent research by Scrap Car Comparison, based on freedom of information requests to city councils across the country, found the shocking statistic that Bradford had the highest number of abandoned car reports between 2020 and 2022. There are clearly specific issues in Keighley as well. Too many abandoned vehicles are being left to rust, without their owners giving due consideration to their correct disposal. That is clearly a problem for the environment and for local residents, as my hon. Friend set out.

It is not acceptable to run a spares and repairs business on the side of a road. Some of these vehicles are just an eyesore, but the nuisance goes beyond the blocking of roads, parking spaces and property access. The hazardous fluids and chemicals that they contain pose a serious risk to the environment and can contaminate the surrounding land, water and air. That directly contravenes what we all want to achieve in our environmental improvement plan and what society demands of us.

Let me outline some of the measures that are already in place. We are committed to encouraging local solutions for local problems, which is why I commend the Utley safer streets group. I am pleased that my hon. Friend is meeting with those can-do people, who are passionate about improving their community; I will always commend and encourage them.

Before removing a vehicle, authorities must first decide whether a vehicle is abandoned. My hon. Friend made the point about a vehicle not having a keeper, not being taxed and not having moved for a period of time; I agree with him that 12 months is a significant period. If a vehicle has flat tyres or is missing essential parts and panels, and if it has been left for a significant period of time without a number plate, it is blindingly obvious that that vehicle is not roadworthy.

I also confirm that the legislation and measures to which my hon. Friend referred are indeed correct. Local authorities can dispose of an abandoned vehicle themselves. They can do so immediately if it is fit to be destroyed, has no number plate or is untaxed, as my hon. Friend said. Otherwise, they can do so if the owner cannot be found or fails to comply with a notice to collect the vehicle. To help councils to tackle the situation, we have given them powers to penalise people who abandon vehicles or parts of vehicles on public highways. People can be issued with a penalty notice of £200 or—for more serious issues—prosecuted, which can lead to a maximum fine of £2,500 or three months in prison.

I will take up my hon. Friend’s ask to review whether the legislation could be improved to increase enforcement, because without the appropriate powers and action we will not achieve our environmental improvement plan’s 38 legal targets and our moral ambitions. I will certainly undertake to identify further measures that this Government could take in relation to that.

I also want to touch on producer responsibility, because we are still producing new cars and we need to think about the future and how we dispose of the products we make responsibly. That is part of the work that DEFRA is doing. In addition to supporting local action to tackle the abandonment of vehicles, we are tackling the environmental impact of end-of-life vehicles. The end-of-life vehicles producer responsibility scheme—that is a mouthful—has led to an improvement in the treatment of scrap vehicles and to increased recycling and recovery rates. In 2018, of the 1.6 million tonnes of scrapped end-of-life vehicles, 93% were recycled and recovered—an impressive increase from 87% in 2011.

Under the producer responsibility scheme, vehicle manufacturers and importers have a responsibility to establish collection systems into which end-of-life vehicles can be delivered free of charge. Local authorities are also able to deliver end-of-life vehicles into those collection schemes.

Scrap metal has significant value, too. Because 75% of most vehicles is metal, they have value even at end of life. People are incentivised to sell vehicles for scrap, rather than abandoning them on the road, but it is not acceptable for the vehicle to slowly degrade and for spares and repairs to be sold over a period of months and years, clogging up roads and causing a blight to communities and a danger to our environment.

Local authorities have powers to tackle nuisance parking where a business leaves two or more cars for sale, or repair cars, on the road within 500 metres of each other. They can either issue a £100 fixed penalty notice or take the business to court on behalf of the complainant, which can lead to the business being handed a fine of up to £2,500. Furthermore, if a member of the public has concerns that a business is selling a vehicle on the road, they can ask the local authority to make a control order. If a control order is issued, the offender must stop selling vehicles on the road and can be fined £1,000.

In response to my hon. Friend’s excellent points, the evidence is clear that this is a significant issue in the Bradford Council area. I have demonstrated how the Government are supporting councils to tackle this local issue, and outlined how the producer responsibility scheme helps individuals to properly dispose of their end-of-life vehicles. External research shows that the number of abandoned car reports in Bradford peaked in 2021. I hope that the good people of Bradford, particularly in my hon. Friend’s constituency, continue to enjoy dwindling reports of abandoned vehicles. Legislation is in place, but we will look at whether it can be strengthened. There is a clear environmental imperative to take action so that vehicles are not left at the side of roads for months and years at a time. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this issue to the House’s attention.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered abandoned vehicles on public highways.

Sitting suspended.