Monday, 31 January 2011

Cardiff’s Unclaimed Roads

Hundreds of Cardiff residents are living on streets that the council are not obliged to maintain – despite paying the same rates of council tax.

Jim Mason, 76, of Radyr, was seriously injured last September when he tripped on the damaged pavement outside his home on De Clare Drive. He suffered a broken shoulder blade, a dislocated femur and needed surgery as a result. Now he can barely lift his right arm and suffers from long-term nerve damage in his shoulder.

Unsurfaced roads, unfinished pavements, and substandard drainage and lighting are just some of the problems associated with unadopted highways – roads that are not owned by the County Council.

Mason immediately contacted the contractor on site to request that the missing paving slab be replaced. Both development firms involved in the construction of the estate, Barratt Homes and Taylor Wimpey, deny responsibility for the pavement.

Mason’s enquiries were passed back and forth between the companies – and after two months, Taylor Wimpey has fixed the pavement.

A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey South Wales commented: “Our first priority is the health and safety of our customers, employees and the public. We therefore repaired the damaged kerb-line to prevent any further incidents, even though it was not established which company was responsible for doing so. We are now investigating where the responsibility for maintaining this area of the development lies.”

“The road has been in the same state for three or four years,” said Mason. “When I fell I was in extreme agony. I didn’t realise it would be such a long and painful recovery. It’s just something I have to put up with now. I can’t use my right arm to do anything at all – I can only lift it up to my waist.”

A council spokesperson said: "Cardiff Council continues to maintain street lighting on unadopted roads and investigates drainage complaints of private sewers or drains to prevent health hazards and public nuisance by generally ensuring that blocked or defective drains and private sewers are in good working order."

But according to Roderick McKerlich, Councillor for Radyr and Morganstown Electoral Division, unadopted roads are a major problem in Cardiff. He said: “This issue causes endless problems. The one that is particularly current is that gritting and snow ploughing just doesn’t happen on these roads.

“I think Radyr is fairly typical of the whole of Cardiff. Any area that has had building work done in the last 15 years will not have escaped this problem. Radyr is not unique in that regard.

“The really distressing thing is that the problem is getting worse. Virtually no roads that are being constructed today are being adopted - so there’s a huge backlog developing.”

According to Jeremy Jones, Corporate Geographic Information System (GIS) Team Leader for Cardiff Council, there are approximately 92 kilometres of unadopted highways in Cardiff – accounting for 8% of all roads in Cardiff. Just under a third of these are pending adoption by the council.

The Highways Act 1980 states that when a developer constructs a road they are responsible for its maintenance until it is adopted by the council. If the developer cannot be found the residents become responsible – even though they pay full council tax.

The council can adopt a road when the developer has constructed it and installed street furniture to a certain standard, and once Welsh Water has adopted the drains underneath the road surface.

Welsh Water’s failure to adopt the drains is a major obstacle in the process according to Councillor Delme Bowen, Executive Member for Traffic and Transport. He said: “The council is waiting for action from Welsh Water on a number of cases, some of them longstanding estates. We cannot adopt roads where the sewers are not already adopted by Welsh Water - because we would be taking on the liability for the drains.”

But many drains are not up to the required standard for adoption by Welsh Water – and there is no legal requirement for them to be so.

“Developers can elect not to enter into the sewage adoption process or can start the process but not follow it through to conclusion. As a result, there are many roads in Cardiff with private sewers but as we are not responsible for these assets we are unaware of their full extent,” said a spokesperson for Welsh Water.

All Welsh Water customers are charged at the standard rate but if the surface water from your property drains to a private sewer and discharges to a watercourse and not a public sewer, you could be entitled to a partial rebate. Welsh Water advise you to contact their information line on 0800 085 3968 if you think this may apply to you.

The Government plans to introduce a new law in October 2011 that will address the problem of private sewer networks. The Private Sewer Transfer Bill will ensure all sewers and lateral drains which are already linked with public sewers transfer into the ownership of water and sewerage companies across England and Wales – for the Cardiff area this company is Welsh Water. Legislation that imposes mandatory build standards on new sewers and an obligation on developers to enter into complete sewer adoption agreements will also be introduced.

Published: The Echo, page 14, 23 December 2010; Wales Online, 13 December 2010

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