Suffolk could get new powers to fine utilities digging up major roads

Utility companies have caused problems on roads in Suffolk like these Cadent gas main works in Norwi

Utility companies have caused problems on roads in Suffolk like these Cadent gas main works in Norwich Road, Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council could be given new powers to fine utility companies who dig up major roads causing rush-hour traffic chaos in a new move by the government.

However Suffolk highways chiefs, who have always resisted calls to introduce a permit scheme for utility companies, said they will have to study the details of the scheme before they decide whether to introduce it.

Transport minister Jo Johnson is planning to give councils across the country the chance to adopt a “Lane Rental” scheme which will give them the power to charge utility companies £2,500 a day for digging up the busiest roads at peak times.

But the details will not be published until the autumn of this year.

A pilot scheme in London and Kent has proved successful – with congestion on the busiest roads caused by utility works falling significantly.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said the authority had not received details of the Lane Rental scheme and would be studying details when they are published.

However he added: “Our inspectors work alongside utility firms to make sure works comply with legislation, health and safety rules and avoid disruption wherever possible. A lot of negotiation goes into this and we work closely with utility companies to plan and co-ordinate works.

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“Permit schemes do incur additional costs and drain resources from the council and utility companies, increase bureaucracy, and ultimately can divert crucial funding away from works on the ground. This may even lead to an increase in costs for tax payers and utility company customers. We therefore have to consider any proposals very carefully to make sure it’s actually in the best interest of residents.”

Mr Johnson said: “Lane rental has seen a massive drop in disruption to drivers as utility companies have changed when and where they carry out work. Now we want millions of motorists around England to get the same benefits.”

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “This is a very welcome announcement. Trials showed that some of the worst congestion caused by planned utility works in London was reduced by half on roads where lane rental was in operation, so rolling this out will extend the benefits nationwide.”

Labour transport spokesman at Suffolk County Council Jack Owen said: “Any initiative from whatever source to reduce the time and frequency and the frustration to motorists, must be welcomed, frequently, roads are dug up by one Utility only to be followed a week later by another Utility digging nearby, occasionally the same company have returned within a short time to either complete the job or carry out a repair, it’s absolute madness.

“The County Council seems to edging around the problem, I don’t think the Public will be convinced that there is close working between the Council and the Utilities, they seem to have a free hand to stick barriers and traffic lights up days before any work starts without a thought for other road users.”

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