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Utility firms will need permit for roadworks in bid to cut down disruption

PUBLISHED: 16:10 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:44 21 September 2018

The permit scheme will mean utility firms have to apply for a pass to work on Suffolk's roads, as part of a bid to crackdown on disruptive roadworks Picture: ARCHANT

The permit scheme will mean utility firms have to apply for a pass to work on Suffolk's roads, as part of a bid to crackdown on disruptive roadworks Picture: ARCHANT

ARCHANT

Utility companies will have to apply for a permit to enable them to carry out work on Suffolk roads as part of the scheme being brought in to prevent overly disruptive work.

Cabinet member for highways, Mary Evans, said changes would need to demonstrate an improved experience for motorists Picture: GREGG BROWNCabinet member for highways, Mary Evans, said changes would need to demonstrate an improved experience for motorists Picture: GREGG BROWN

Transport secretary Chris Grayling wrote to Suffolk highways in July this year calling for the introduction of a street works permit scheme, after research published by the government in June suggested permits helped drive down the duration of work.

While details of how it could operate are still being drawn up, it would effectively mean that any utility wishing to carry out work would have to apply for a permit from Suffolk Highways, with any overrunning works or traffic lights being left resulting in more stringent penalties.

It is understood this will not apply to emergency roadworks, such as a call out to repair a burst water or gas pipe.

Suffolk County Council’s Conservative administration had previously rejected the idea of a permit scheme two years ago after lengthy lobbying by then-Labour highways spokeswoman Sandra Gage, with the council at the time stating it would just encourage firms to factor in more time on a permit application.

Former Suffolk County Council cabinet member for highways, James Finch (right) in 2016 said a permit scheme would just encourage utility companies to apply for longer working times Picture: NIGEL BROWNFormer Suffolk County Council cabinet member for highways, James Finch (right) in 2016 said a permit scheme would just encourage utility companies to apply for longer working times Picture: NIGEL BROWN

Mary Evans, the county council’s cabinet member for highways, said: “Anything that reduces the length of time that roadworks run and improves the information that is shared with residents and motorists has got to be good.

“The whole process and procedure for road closures in Suffolk was already on the Highways Improvement and Innovations Board agenda before the letter was received from the secretary of state requesting the consideration and implementation of a permit system.

“We are in contact with our counterparts in Essex who operate a permit scheme for utilities to learn lessons from them on how this can be implemented most effectively.

“I want to be very clear that any changes would need to demonstrate an improved service for residents and motorists before we go ahead.”

The permit scheme is expected to take effect from March.

It comes after a major review of how the county’s roads are maintained was announced in June by Mrs Evans, following new county council leader Matthew Hicks’ commitment to prioritise the issue.

Councillor Jack Owen, Labour group spokesman for highways, said: “The Labour Group on Suffolk County Council has long campaigned for a street works permit scheme.

“For many years we have said that this is the most effective way of delivering road works, rather than the piecemeal way it has been done in the past.

“This approach has led to unnecessary congestion and delays across our county.

“A Department for Transport evaluation of such schemes released in June this year has shown that a street permit scheme reduces delays and also decreases the amount of time road repairs take.

“Whilst this is a good thing we are concerned that the introduction of any scheme inevitably leads to increased costs and we must be vigilant that any scheme that Suffolk implements does not have the unforeseen circumstance of allowing companies to pass these extra costs back to the consumer in terms of higher bills or tariffs for their utilities.”

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