Headlines: February 3rd, 2005

Local authorities could get tough new powers to deal with utility companies when badly managed street works lead to traffic disruption. The proposed measures have been put out for consultation by the Transport Secretary Alistair Darling.It is estimated that disruption caused by utility companies costs the economy more than four billion pounds each year. The consultation covers four sets of proposals, including the introduction of permit schemes and new fixed penalties for utility companies when they commit criminal offences. There would also be changes to the existing regime for charging utilities whose works overrun and a package of steps to strengthen the existing controls over utility works.

Specifically the plans are for a new maximum penalty of 5,000 pounds a day for utility companies who do not finish street works on time, compared to the current 2,000 pounds. The higher charges would apply for overruns on major routes, but not to works on the least busy roads. Councils would also get the power to set up permit schemes with suggested permit costs of between 30 and 400 pounds depending on the type and length of work. It is expected that most permits would be at the lower end of charges and any permit scheme would be subject to the approval of the Transport Secretary.

There could also be bans of up to five years on carrying out works on recently dug up roads and stronger powers for councils to direct utility companies about when and where they can dig up roads. This might, for example, mean that works could not be carried out on days when they would clash with events such as sporting fixtures, market days or other major road works. Another proposal would require utility companies to give local authorities up to six months notice of future works. Again the length of notice would be determined by the importance of the road involved and the likely length of the works. Councils could also have the power to impose fixed penalties of 120 pounds where utilities fail to meet the legal duty to notify the authority that they will be digging up a road in their area.

Consultation on measures will last until April 26th.