NMAG is concerned that:-
- Separate utility companies repeatedly but avoidably interrupt the same road in an uncoordinated manner. With a suitable IT system it is possible to schedule works intelligently – at least more effectively for the motoring public that at present.
- Utility works are too often left unattended for days or longer, the work force often being transferred to other late-running contracts. Too often there is no responsible local authority overseeing the situation to protect road users’ interests
- Despite predicted serious delays and congestion in both urban and trunk roads because of road works operation often operates on an 8 hour day 5 day week basis. The work force is often seen to be absent, or reduced to skeleton levels and extensive lengths of network roads are taken out of service to suit the contractors. This is arranged to to suit budgets and tendering conditions while users are left to suffer the consequences and massive total financial losses and extra costs.
- Road works signage and controls are seen to be left in place after roadworks have been completed. This happens in instances of night-time-only working, but the traffic controls remain to cause disruption during the day.
- There is no independent dedicated road works and contractor inspectorate with administrative power over the contractors and the authorities which engage them to ensure that the interests of road users and the economy of the wider public are represented.
The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (NRSWA), as amended by the Transport Act 2000 and the Traffic Management Act 2004 (TMA) have provisions that enable highway authorities to operate schemes which involve charging street works undertakers for the time when their works occupy the highway (“lane rental” schemes). The Department for Transport issued Guidance in 2012: “New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 Lane Rental Schemes: Guidance to English Local Highway Authorities“.
Roadworks cause significant disruption for every road user, not least businesses whose operation depends on free passage of their vehicles, and they impose substantial costs on the road users and on the national economy. The Government considers there to be considerable scope to reduce this disruption with its strategy being based on providing the required powers, incentives and tools for all parties involved to identify and adopt best practice in the management and coordination of works.
The 1991 Act and the Traffic Management Act 2004 both impose duties on highway authorities to coordinate street works and highway works and, generally, to facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic within their areas (the so-called “network management duty”). It is the responsibility of the relevant highway authority to ensure that it makes appropriate use of the powers at its disposal and to recognise that different tools may be appropriate for different situations.
The legislation empowers highway authorities to establish permit schemes under which promoters of street and highway works must first obtain a permit to allow those works to be executed, an application for a permit requiring the period for carrying out the works to be specified. Permit schemes have so far been operating in most of London, in Kent and in Northamptonshire, these schemes providing an effective tool for authorities and undertakers to optimise the management and coordination of works and thereby minimise disruption.
The NRSWA also makes provision for financial incentives to minimise disruption caused by street works. Authorities can levy “overrun charges” under section 74 of NRSWA where street works are not completed within an agreed, reasonable period of time. These charges do provide a strong incentive to avoid works overrunning beyond the end of the reasonable period but they do not provide any incentive to shorten durations or minimise disruption to road users within the agreed reasonable period.
Section 74A of NRSWA enables highway authorities, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to impose on street works undertakers a daily charge of up to £2500 for each day during which their works occupy the highway – commonly referred to as “lane rental” schemes.
For future schemes to succeed in reducing disruption caused by works, while avoiding excessive consequential costs being incurred and then passed on to utilities' consumers, the Government considers that schemes must focus specifically on those critical parts of the highway network where the public costs of disruption caused by works are greatest.
The Government also considers that charges must be applied only when works occupy the highway at peak periods, with exemptions from charges at other times, so as to provide a real financial incentive to carry out works at the least disruptive times. Exemptions that encourage less-disruptive working practices will also help to demonstrate to undertakers, and their customers (who will ultimately bear a portion of the costs), that lane rental schemes are not simply being implemented by highway authorities as a money-raising tool.
NMAG will lobby for an inspectorate to be set up to ensure that all road interruptions involve a minimum time scale. The emphasis must be switched to accommodate the road user at all times. All works to be governed by an agreed policy which establishes exactly what those who pay for the roads can expect on all occasions.
NMAG aims (in due course when resources permit) to operate a reporting desk and take matters forward on behalf of the motoring public and generate beneficial publicity as we go..
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