Rise in applications to dig up Suffolk's roads
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
As we continue to make our way out on more journeys following a period of reduced freedom; whether by foot, bike or car, it won’t take you long to realise the number of works taking place on the highway, which seem to be springing up in towns and villages throughout Suffolk.
Many people understandably think all these works are being undertaken by the council.
However, nearly three quarters of all work being carried out on the highway are from utility companies who manage services such as gas, water, electric and broadband who provide services to homes and businesses or by developers when new developments are being built.
The remaining quarter is work by Suffolk Highways or contractors working on our behalf improving the roads, footways and street lights.
When wanting to carry out work on a highway, the contractor or utility company need to submit an application to Suffolk County Council’s Network Assurance team, who then go through a process of checking road availability and suitability, resulting in the application being approved, refused or amended as appropriate.
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On average, over 60,000 applications are received every year. In the last six months applications are up about 10,000 on the same time last year as companies are catching up with the lockdown backlog.
Work to improve on the highway and utility infrastructure is ramping up – which is good, however the result of this unfortunately is a busier road network and potential inconvenience for all of us when we are out on our daily business.
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So, what are we doing to help minimise this impact and is there anything residents can do?
Our Network Assurance teams carry out a number of checks to ensure any company who wishes to carry out work on the highway has considered all the potential issues and impacts on road users.
Since the introduction of the permit scheme, a fee is also applied when applying for a permit to do roadworks, and the cost will vary depending on the length of the proposed work, the strategic importance of the affected road and the time of day the work is due to take place as well as the time taken by the Council to carry process the paperwork.
If roadworks occur outside of the peak congestion periods, the fee is reduced. This helps keep disruption in the peak hours to the minimum possible. The council’s Network Assurance team frequently does not agree to work taking place in the requested window that has been requested.
However, utility companies have a right to work in the highway and so the council is not able to continuously turn down requests with no good reason.
Another situation that often causes misunderstanding is when a utility company carries out work on an emergency repair such as a burst water main or leaking gas pipe. In these situations the company can start work up to two working hours before they are obliged to inform the county council.
In the worst case scenario emergency work could start late on a Friday afternoon and the company need not notify the council until first thing Monday morning. This follows DfT guidelines but can catch out councillors and members of the public who will not have been notified about that particular closure.
The council does regularly meet representatives of utility companies working in Suffolk to feedback areas in need of improvement – this means we can keep a close eye on where elements of utility works are failing and get these sorted out.
I’d also firmly encourage residents to hold utility companies responsible for the works they are carrying out. For example, all utility companies have a responsibility for appropriately communicating with residents ahead of major planned works taking place, if this doesn’t happen, I would ask you to contact the respective utility company or the council so that this can be looked into.
As the local authority, we are here to serve our residents and are committed to maintaining our roads to a safe standard, whilst supporting you to get around the county as conveniently as possible.
I very much welcome the feedback I have received since starting in my position as cabinet member and appreciate any comments and feedback to help us improve what is done across the county.