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Northern Ireland streetworks getting worse - watchdog

UTILITIES DIGGING up roads in Northern Ireland are performing worse each year despite legislation to punish shoddy streetworks, the province's public spending watchdog said last week.

Reinstatement failure rates have risen from 38% to 44%, says a report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

The province's Roads Service is spending £10M of its £40M budget on patching up poor resurfacing but little is being done to punish the utilities.

'The Audit Office found that in most cases no further action was taken by Roads Service nor were any wider measures demanded from the utilities to ensure that subsequent performance was improved, ' says the report Road openings by utilities.

The lax regime is blamed on the Roads Service's failure to bring in a computerised register for streetworks inspection until last August, five years after the legislation authorising its establishment came into force.

The promised inspection target of 30% of road openings has not been met, leading to an estimated £600,000 loss of revenue from utilities last year alone.

The Roads Service claimed it was unable to start charging utilities until a code of practice for streetworks was complete.

But the report criticises the Roads Service for failing to create an interim system under which utilities could be charged for poor repair work or long possessions.

'We saw no evidence that the benefits of delaying implementation were properly assessed and weighted against the benefits of having a formalised code of practice which had legal powers to recover inspection fees, ' says the report. The report demands immediate research into a charging system.

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