Tory point-scoring to blame for roadworks misery, says Suffolk Labour
- Credit: Archant
Years of frustration from roadworks in Suffolk could have been avoided if the Conservative administration at the county council had listened to the opposition in 2016 – that’s the claim from Labour councillors.
The council has now announced it will be introducing a permit system before utility companies - or even Suffolk Highways - can dig up a road. They will have to pay for the permit and will be liable for a fine if they over-run the time they apply for.
But Labour transport spokesman Jack Owen pointed out this was exactly the same arrangement that his predecessor Sandra Gage had proposed in 2016 and taken to a council meeting in 2017.
He said: "The Labour Party in Suffolk has long pushed for a permit scheme with some utility companies becoming a law unto themselves and causing real havoc on our roads.
"I have seen diversion signs being left out when work has been completed, lights and barriers being put up sometimes days before they need to and leaving them at weekends when there is no need. The time it takes to carry out some of their repairs is also questionable."
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Speaking in 2016, James Finch, the Conservative cabinet member for highways at the time, said: "No public utility company wants to spend more time than they need to working on the highway as it costs them money. We already have agreements in place to charge for works that overrun.
"The perception that a permit scheme would reduce the working time is misleading as the companies would simply factor in more time for the work to happen in order to ensure they were not in a position to be fined."
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Mr Owen, said: "It's welcome that the Conservatives have finally agreed to the proposal that Labour put forward many years ago.
"It's a shame their political point-scoring prevented this from happening then - so much disruption to our residents and businesses could have been avoided."
Andrew Reid, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for highways, said: "Previously, there was limited evidence in place to support the argument that the noticing scheme in Suffolk should be replaced with a permit scheme.
"In particular, we had concerns over the extra bureaucracy and our ability to recover our costs for the additional staff needed to operate a permit scheme - they were the main reasons why the motion was rejected back in 2017.
"There are three main drivers for the council introducing a permit scheme now. Firstly, the Department for Transport is bringing in a new IT system called Street Manager in April of this year. If Suffolk remained as a noticing scheme authority, we would potentially be disadvantaged.
"Secondly, the secretary of state for transport told all noticing scheme authorities back in 2018 that he could use his powers to force us to use a permit scheme.
"Thirdly, the Department for Transport expects all local authorities to be operating a permit scheme by December 2020. So, although our hand is being forced somewhat, we consider that we can make a permit scheme give us more control over how and when public utility works are carried out, as well as recover our costs.
"However, introducing a permit scheme is unlikely to result in a reduction in roadworks due to our county's ageing road network and utility infrastructure. A permit scheme will ensure improvement works are better co-ordinated resulting in fewer disruptions and fewer times that vehicles spend in traffic/delays, benefiting those who live, work and visit our county."