There's a set of reasons for Council highway departments 'adopting' new highway. Partly this is because, if the developer does the work to standard, they have no choice and partly it's because we seem incapable of creating any means of managing highway that doesn't involve the very inefficient process of collecting taxes in one place and setting budgets in another.
The roads on new estates - the one's thrown up by the big housebuilders - aren't serving the wider public. They are there specifically and absolutely for the benefit of the people who buy the houses on that estate. Yet our system believes that looking after those roads should be a duty for the local council rather than a sensible responsibility for the residents.
Now think about looking after those roads. And then read this:
What would our neighborhoods look like if we voluntarily reduced the amount of infrastructure? This isn’t a purely academic question. As municipal, state, and federal budgets get squeezed there’s going to be a point at which we have no choice but to stop building new roads and even reduce the amount of maintenance on the roads we already have. We could approach this situation with dread and a sense of loss, or we could embrace it as an opportunity to get a better quality of life for a whole lot less money.
This isn't about not filling in potholes nor is it about Council's not taking responsibility for what we might call the "strategic road network". Rather it's about whether you could simply hand over the responsibility for looking after estate roads to the beneficiaries - the people who own the properties and who live on the estate.
John Sanphillippo, who wrote the quote above, is an American (and we should recognise that the system over there is a little different) but he makes a pretty convincing case for us reconsidering how we design, build and manage local roads - the ones that do nothing other than take folk from the strategic network to their houses. And Sanphillippo makes the point that we'd build roads rather differently if we were responsible for their upkeep - here he is describing a new development with what we in the UK would call 'adopted highway':
What does all that paving really do for the neighborhood? You could land an Airbus A380 on this much tarmac. But what’s the point? You can be quite sure that when these roads become cracked and potholed the wealthy well-connected residents of these grand homes will mobilize and bang heads at the public works department. Somehow the government will be made to absorb the expense of repaving things even if the (very high) property taxes from these specific homes doesn’t come close to covering the real cost of maintenance. Would these home owners accept a different standard if they were directly responsible for maintaining their own road?
And it would be perfectly possible for the owners of those properties to collectively own and manage the road network serving the estate. If we are to change the relationship between citizen and government and to reconfigure public services, one of the things we have to do is ask whether some of the things we do actually are public services - the owning and managing of estate roads might just be one of the things that has to go.