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‘Zero tolerance’ approach to utility works announced by Buckinghamshire Council

| October 2, 2023

Buckinghamshire Council has written to every utility company that operates in the county with a clear reminder of their obligations when they want to carry out roadworks.

The council has also introduced seven-day working in its ‘Streetworks’ team to carry out even more inspections to check works are being managed correctly.

The number of permit requests for utility works has increased dramatically in recent years with a significant knock-on impact on the county’s road network. There has also been a rise in the number of Fixed Penalty Notices the council has had to issue to utility firms where they’ve failed to keep to the terms of their permits. Breaches the council has taken action on include:

  • Failing to display correct permit references and emergency contact details on site.
  • Not taking away traffic lights when they’re no longer needed.
  • Failing to implement correct traffic management.
  • Not publicising proposed works well enough.
  • Failing to remove surplus materials and equipment.

The council has informed utilities companies of its new ‘zero tolerance’ approach when they fail to keep to the permitted arrangements. Companies will now receive a Fixed Penalty Notice on first breach and will have their permit revoked if a further breach occurs.

Utilities firms have the right to access their networks by digging up the roads to carry out repairs, service connections and improvement works. They also have the right to respond to emergency situations with permissions granted retrospectively. The council issues permits so these works can go ahead but under these permits they are obliged to follow strict agreed criteria. The council also weighs up many factors before agreeing a works permit, such as whether there is another set of roadworks nearby, or if there is too great an impact on a critical service such as a school or hospital.

As part of the approach to lessen the impact of roadworks disruption, the council is also carrying out a wholesale review of the county’s road network to identify the busiest areas with a view to potentially make changes as to when utilities works can take place in these places, potentially insisting on more evening, shift and weekend working. The council is also going to lobby government over the current fine rate for breaches, which is nationally set at £120, reduced to £80 for early payment.

Steven Broadbent, Cabinet Member for Transport at Buckinghamshire Council, said: ‘We do want a constructive relationship with all utilities firms who we know have to carry out works to repair and improve their infrastructure, and that often this will ultimately benefit us all. However, we are very much aware of the impact of these works and the disruption they cause, and it’s absolutely critical that utility firms keep to the terms of their permits and manage their works appropriately and responsibly.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many cases this year where works just haven’t been managed well enough and the inconvenience and detrimental impact of this falls onto our residents, businesses and communities. We are taking this action to make sure standards and obligations to residents are maintained.

We have limited ability to refuse works but we do our utmost to work with firms to keep disruption to a minimum, setting out clear expectations as part of the permit process. We also think the current fine limit is totally insufficient to deter mismanagement of works.

Overall, we know the impact of roadworks is a major issue for our residents. We also know road use and driver habits has changed since the pandemic, hence us doing a fresh review of our network to understand the current pinch-points and so we can look to programme works better around these locations.

*Source of information : Press release from Buckinghamshire Council.

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