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Councils prepare to fine utilities for late streetworks

LOCAL AUTHORITIES are to fine utilities companies failing to complete street works on time or to a satisfactory standard, it emerged this week.

Council departments get new powers to penalise utilities firms and their contractors under Section 74 of the New Roads & Streetworks Act 1991 when the clause is enacted. This is expected to happen from next April.

Last week the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions started consultations on how the fining regime will be enforced.

Under the Act councils will have an incentive to enforce deadlines and quality standards because they will be allowed to keep revenue from fines.

Fine revenue will give utilities their first real incentive to ensure they get work done on time and to quality, said Local Government Association policy officer Andy Elmer.

Until now local authorities have been forced to prosecute firms which disrupt traffic through slow, incomplete or shoddy work.

Last week Hertfordshire County Council won £3,200 damages plus £1,940 costs from Eastern Electricity for eight offences under the New Roads & Streetworks Act.

It brought the prosecutions after restructuring enabled highways division North Hertfordshire Highways Partnership to dedicate full time manpower to investigate the overruning work and poor quality reinstatement.

But many councils are put off prosecuting utilities, especially as they often risk having to carry the cost of bringing cases to court (NCE 13 April).

Motoring research body RAC Foundation said in some cases it was more profitable for contractors to shift workers from one job to another before work was completed because fines were so low it was worth facing prosecution rather than finish existing work.

In future utilities will have to tell councils how long they expect streetworks to take.

Fines will then be imposed for each day a project overruns. Utilities will also be penalised for failing to finish work and if pavement reinstatement fails to meet performance standards set out under a two year guarantee.

They will have to justify overruns if they are caused by unforeseen conditions.

But Elmer expressed concern that many authorities lacked resources to check up on streetworks projects and make the new fining regime work.

'Even in a fairly compact borough it is going to take quite a bit of time travelling to find all the sites and cross referencing findings with notices given by the relevant utility, ' he said.

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