Abandoned Vehicles: Public Highways

Part of the debate – 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.