Tough new powers granted to curb disruption from roadworks

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SIX Yorkshire councils have been granted tough new controls designed to minimise the disruption utility firms cause when digging up the roads.

Barnsley, Doncaster, Kirklees, Leeds, Rotherham and Sheffield have been given new powers by the Government allowing them to force any firm carrying out roadworks to apply for a special permit in advance, setting conditions on timing, coordination and the amount of road space left available during the works.

Those companies who break the terms of their permit or work without a permit in the six local authority areas will have to pay four-figure fines.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said yesterday he was “delighted” to be able to give the go ahead for the Yorkshire permit scheme.

“Although we all know that roadworks are sometimes unavoidable, the disruption they cause can be a hugely frustrating for drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians – as well as costing businesses time and money,” he said.

“That is why it is important councils use the powers they have to make sure utility firms carry out works with consideration for those who use the road.

“We are determined to tackle problem road works and make sure that those who dig up the road are made accountable when disruption occurs.” Permit schemes are already in place in several local authority areas in the South of England after legislation was introduced in April 2008.

The maximum fine available to councils will be £5,000.

In Kirklees, the council said the scheme would cover the busiest 25 per cent of the road network.

Barnsley said its permit scheme will apply to all strategic roads, making up a similar proportion of the town’s total network.

Coun Roy Miller, Barnsley Council’s Cabinet spokesman for development, said the powers would be important to help motorists.

“Roadworks can affect everyone,” he said.

“Any works carried out in the street have the potential to cause disruption, depending on how long it lasts, where it is carried out, its scale and potential relation to other activities which may be taking place.”

The new system will be particularly beneficial in busy city centres, and will help councils to prevent a situation where utility firms repeatedly dig up sections of the same road to carry out different types of work.

Les Sturch, Sheffield City Council’s director of development services, said the new powers would work in tandem with the new £2bn highways investment programme on which the city is about to embark, through the UK’s biggest ever Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme.

“We were very keen to introduce the scheme in the city as it will help greatly with traffic flows on our busiest routes,” he said. “Roadworks are inevitable in a big city like Sheffield, but we make sure we coordinate roadworks to minimise the impact on traffic caused by unnecessary works on the public highway.

“For example, three utility companies might want to work on the same stretch of road, so we co-ordinate their work at the same time so there is just one period of disruption rather than three.

“This scheme will also help us deliver the city-wide highway improvements about to start with the Highways PFI programme that will minimise disruption to Sheffield people and businesses.”

The announcement was welcomed by road users groups, who have had little to cheer following the confirmation in Wednesday’s Budget that sky-high fuel prices will be rising further this summer when an extra 3p is put on fuel duty.

Andrew Howard, director of policy at the AA, said: “Generally we do welcome these sorts of schemes – they are good news for motorists.

“However, we would point out that many of the key questions around roadworks will continue – someone will have to decide whether it’s better to completely close a key road for a short period of time or to close different halves of it for much longer.

“The councils will still have to get these choices right.”

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