|A typical unadopted road in south east London, with a basic road surface and lack of pavement or normal road markings|
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An unadopted road is any road that does not receive public funding for its maintenance and upkeep. They are formally defined as such under the Highways Act 1980.
Although any private road is technically unadopted, the term is normally only used for roads that can be accessed by the general public, unlike, say, driveways to stately homes. There are around 40,000 unadopted roads in England and Wales. The road may have a named private owner, but it is more common for the owner to be either impossible or difficult to trace.
Because the council does not allocate any money towards unadopted roads, the responsibility for maintenance normally resides with anyone whose property adjoins the road. The specifics are specified in the title deed of any property, and can include land that adjoins the road without having direct access to it. Local authorities may choose to adopt a road such as a residential street if they choose, but they are not obliged to do so. Adoption generally requires landowners improving the road up to an acceptable standard that must be met before the local authority will consider it.
Although most access roads on new housing estates start off unadopted during construction, these are normally adopted when building is complete and properties are available for sale. This process is usually planned from the outset, and the road is adopted by means of an agreement under Section 38 of the Highways Act 1980.
Unadopted roads can cause significant problems for homeowners. While councils will normally collect rubbish from properties along it, they are not obliged to do so. Any potholes that appear on the road owing to bad weather can result in significant expense for residents, though this is often alleviated by residents having an informal payment collection system, so the cost is shared by everyone. The responsibility for utilities such as gas, electricity and sewerage can be particularly complex on an unadopted road, and are hard to negotiate. If someone has an accident, such as injury from tripping on a pothole, they may be able to sue the owner or maintainer for damages, in the same way a similar incident on an adopted road could result in a claim against the council.
A number of unadopted roads exist around former mining communities, such as those in northeast England. These roads were privately built in the 19th century by the landowners to a low standard of foot and occasional horse traffic, before the advent of the motor car. The roads were then sold to the National Coal Board during nationalisation in 1946. Since the decline of the coal industry and the breakup of the NCB, closing numerous mines across the country, the ownership status of these roads can be ambiguous.
The seaside hamlet of Jaywick, Essex has received attention in the national press on several occasions over the state of its unadopted roads. These roads were originally designed as private access to holiday properties in the 1920s, without any intention of being used by motor traffic. As they are unadopted, and residents are unable to afford the cost of improving them to the standard of adoption, they are frequently flooded and potholed. Locals have attempted to obtain National Lottery grants to improve quality.
- Roads to nowhere - The Guardian