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

PUBLISHED: 13:37 17 February 2018

roadworks. Picture: Matthew Usher.

roadworks. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Matthew Usher.

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But the details will not be published until the autumn of this year.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

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