Homeowners have been warned that Stormont will not pay the £300m needed to fix the 370 miles of incomplete roads at unfinished housing developments across Northern Ireland.
And the minister responsible for roads has said that owners — having already bought their homes and paid rates — will have to meet the cost themselves.
Dozens of sites across the province have been left without sewerage, lighting and pathways as recession-hit contractors have gone out of business.
And roads cannot be finished — or in the official term ‘adopted’ — until all the facilities and services have been completed.
Now an Assembly committee has commenced an investigation into the fast-growing problem causing misery for hundreds of homeowners.
They are having to take bins considerable distances to main roads — often in darkness, due to a lack of street lighting — because refuse collectors will not enter some developments for health and safety reasons. One young mother, for example, has to take two bins 700 metres up a steep hill.
Children are left playing on uneven and unfinished surfaces with no traffic-calming measures in place, and the state of the roads often leads to vehicles being damaged.
In the past, residents left without services were entitled to rates reductions but that has now been abolished.
MLAs have also heard of firms declaring themselves bankrupt and re-emerging as another company within weeks or months, then starting on another site.
But Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy insisted: “Public money is not available to undertake this work. A recent study by Roads Service found that there were some 600km of unadopted roads serving five properties or more in Northern Ireland.”
In a written answer to Green Party leader Steven Agnew, he added: “It would cost some £300m to bring these roads up to adoption standards.
“Unfortunately, therefore, the owners/frontagers of the site would have to complete this work at their own expense before Roads Service could consider the access roads for adoption into the public road.”
Mr Agnew said: “I think this level of money does tell the scale of the problem and it seems to be a growing one across Northern Ireland.”
The North Down MLA said the main problem appeared to be building firms going out of business or being unable to access finance to finish their developments.
Mr Kennedy’s department confirmed there are more than 80 sites where work remains to be completed — and it may not be finished until next March.
“There are currently 83 sites with outstanding works requiring completion,” a statement from Roads Service revealed.
“The 14 contractors, acting on behalf of the department, are currently working on 23 of these sites.
“It is not possible to provide a detailed estimate of the completion time for each of these sites, as the extent of the works does vary and work may also need to be undertaken by other statutory bodies, which Roads Service has no control over.
“However, it is anticipated that a substantial number of these sites will be completed in this financial year.”
The Assembly’s regional development committee, which is taking evidence from the Consumer Council and Law Society, hopes to complete its report before the summer recess.
Committee chair, Jimmy Spratt of the DUP, said: “It is obvious that councillors are getting an earful from residents.
“They bring the issue to their local authority, but it is powerless to do anything about it.
“The only thing that residents feel very angry about, however, is the fact that once they have been in a house in a development for only about a month, the first bill to arrive on their doorstep is the rates bill.
“They say: ‘Here I am living in a private estate, and I purchased the house in good faith.
“‘I have no adopted roads or sewers, but the first bill is from the local authority’.”