The government has unveiled new powers for councils to charge utilities by the hour for carrying out streetworks on key routes as part of a wider plan to extend the controversial lane rental scheme.
The government’s changes to the lane rental scheme, which has been piloted in Kent and Greater London, include allowing charges to be imposed on an hourly rather than a daily basis. Under the current regulations, utilities have to pay up to £2,500 a day to carry out works on routes where lane rental schemes apply.
The government claims the lane rental scheme encourages utilities to avoid carrying out work at peak times, and incentivises them to collaborate when digging up congested routes.
However, NJUG chief executive Bob Gallienne raised concerns about the mooted extension to the scheme.
He said: “Utilities companies are delivering the infrastructure that the UK needs to drive up productivity, create economic growth and deliver on government’s priorities such as broadband and new homes. Lane rental schemes make it harder for utilities companies to deliver vital infrastructure and value for money for consumers while minimising disruption.
“This consultation is a chance to explore how disruption can be reduced for road users at the same time as minimising the policy burden on utilities companies. NJUG is currently working with a range of stakeholders to develop a Future Strategy for Street Works, setting out a blue print for delivering world class street works.”
A consultation paper, published at the weekend, outlines a series of options for the future of the lane rental scheme. The three options are to scrap lane rental; retain only the existing schemes in London and Kent; or to roll it out to other local authority areas.
The wider roll out could be implemented by establishing ‘super permits’ for works on the most congested roads, which councils could introduce without having to receive permission from central government.
The consultation paper suggests that super permits could be required for work on around five per cent of the local road network, as is the case in Kent, where such a regime has already been introduced. It says the fee for securing a permit could be set at a maximum of £1,000 per application.
According to an evaluation of the Transport for London pilot scheme, the introduction of lane rental had led to a nearly seven-fold annual increase in collaborative working by utilities when carrying out streetworks and a more than three-fold rise in the number of disrupted days avoided. It says that ‘serious and severe congestion’ caused by planned utility works fell by 51% on lane rental roads.
The consultation paper also says the government ‘could consider’ the maximum level of charge that was set out in the 2012 regulations for lane rental schemes.
The government’s plans received a warm welcome from Martin Tett, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association.
He said: “It is crucial that councils are given these powers without lengthy national approval mechanisms, so they can ensure critical roadworks are carried out as quickly as possible. The sooner councils are allowed to get on top of this problem the better.
“We look forward to working with government to make sure that any new system allows vital work to be completed as soon as it possibly can be.”