UTILITIES WARNED last week that they will have to increase water, gas and electricity charges to cover the cost of complying with the Traffic Management Act as it comes into force over the next two years.
The Act allows highway authorities to demand that anyone wishing to carry out roadworks pay for a permit.
The utilities also said that local authorities could exploit provisions in the Act to impose spurious fines for unauthorised streetworks as a revenue raising exercise.
The Traffic Management Act became law in October 2003 and updates the New Roads & Streetworks Act 1991 (NCE 4 September 2003).
The authority will collect the revenue and will have the power to tell contractors when and where work can be carried out.
The government will consult on the permits early next year but it is understood that it will be up to highways authorities to set permit prices that simply cover costs.
If permit terms are breached then the contractor or the utility will be fined.
But utilities fear this could be exploited.
'Permit schemes could be abused by authorities and used to generate income. Authorities are already banking on the incoming revenues, ' said National Grid Transco network information manager Les Guest.
But one council official disagreed.
'I can see no problem there at all, ' said Chris Tunstall, Durham Council director of environment and strategic head of highways on the Highway Authority & Utilities Committee.
'If an authority is putting spurious notices out then the utility could simply elect to go to court, where the magistrate would just throw it out, ' he said.