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Before Clause 241

Lords amendment: No. 112, to insert the following new clause--Charge for whole duration of works--

.--(1) In the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, after section 74 insert--
"Charge determined by reference to duration of works.
74A.--(1) The Secretary of State may make provision by regulations requiring an undertaker executing street works in a maintainable highway to pay to the highway authority a charge determined, in the prescribed manner, by reference to the duration of the works.
(2) The regulations shall not require charges to be paid to a local highway authority unless the Secretary of State has approved it for the purposes of the regulations by order made by statutory instrument.

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(3) The regulations may prescribe exemptions from the requirement to pay charges.
(4) The regulations may prescribe different rates of charge according to--
(a) the extent to which the surface of the highway is affected by the works,
(b) the place and time at which the works are executed, and
(c) such other factors as appear to the Secretary of State to be relevant.
(5) The regulations may--
(a) prescribe more than one rate of charge in respect of the same description of works, and
(b) provide that charges are to be paid in respect of any works of that description at the rate which appears to the highway authority to be appropriate in relation to those works.
(6) The regulations may make provision for the determination of the duration of works for the purposes of the regulations.
(7) And they may, in particular, make provision for works to be treated as beginning or ending on the giving of, or as stated in, a notice given by the undertaker to the highway authority, in the prescribed manner, in accordance with a requirement imposed by the regulations.
(8) The regulations may make provision as to the time and manner of making payment of charges.
(9) The regulations shall provide that a highway authority may reduce the amount, or waive payment, of a charge--
(a) in any particular case,
(b) in such classes of case as they may decide or as may be prescribed, or
(c) in all cases or in all cases other than a particular case or such class of case as they may decide or as may be prescribed.
(10) The regulations may make provision as to--
(a) the application by local highway authorities of sums paid by way of charges, and
(b) the keeping of accounts, and the preparation and publication of statements of account, relating to sums paid by way of charges.
(11) The regulations may create in respect of any failure to give a notice required by the regulations a criminal offence triable summarily and punishable with a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(12) The regulations may require disputes of any prescribed description to be referred to an arbitrator appointed in accordance with the regulations.
(13) The first regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of them has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament; subsequent regulations shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
Regulations under sections 74 and 74A.
74B. Nothing shall be taken to prevent the imposition of charges by both regulations under sections 74 and regulations under section 74A in respect of the execution of the same works at the same time."
(2) The reference to the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 in Schedule 1 to the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999 is to be treated as referring to that Act as amended by this section and section (Charges where works unreasonably prolonged).")

Mr. Hill: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 113.

Mr. Hill: The issue of disruption caused by street works is of increasing concern to the public and

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road users. Several measures are already in place, or are being introduced, which are aimed at minimising that disruption. In particular, we announced in April our intention to activate section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, which allows highway authorities to charge utility companies for street works that are unreasonably prolonged.

We have recently finished consultation on draft regulations that set out the detailed arrangements for operating a scheme under section 74. However, we recognise that it may be necessary to introduce further measures if that does not result in a sufficient reduction in the present level of disruption. We will therefore review the situation to see whether further measures may be required on, for instance, powers for highway authorities to levy a charge on undertakers who carry out street works from the first day of works--so-called lane rental.

New clause 112 allows for regulations to implement such a scheme, but it does not try to set out every last detail in the Bill. Should we activate that power, we will consult extensively with relevant parties. The amendment sets out some issues that we want to cover in regulations, such as the level at which charges should be set and the way in which they would vary according to the location and timing of works. The regulations would be subject to affirmative resolution as I have already confirmed, so the House will be able to scrutinise the proposals in detail.

New clause 113 modifies the existing power in section 74 of the 1991 Act for the Secretary of State to issue regulations that require undertakers to pay a charge to the relevant highway authority where their works exceed the deadline that had previously been agreed with the authority. In preparing draft regulations, it became apparent that highway authorities would need clear evidence of when works began and ended in order to be able to charge undertakers.

Following discussion with the relevant parties, it was agreed that the best way of achieving that would be for the regulations to allow notice to be given by undertakers to the highway authorities stating the start and close of works. As the 1991 Act does not allow for such notices, the new clause provides for them to be given and for their content to be prescribed in regulations. As with lane rental, the amendment allows for several areas relating to the levying of charges to be dealt with in regulations, over and above those prescribed in the 1991 Act.

9.30 pm

Mr. Syms: The Conservative party agrees with the general thrust of policy. All of us have suffered; many of our constituents have suffered not only because roadworks have been carried out, but sometimes because they have not been finished--parts of roads have been dug up and left for some considerable time. That has caused difficulty.

There has always been a requirement for people to tell the highway authority before they dig up roads. If we move towards a charging regime, setting precisely when work starts and finishes will be important. I wonder whether it will be possible for local authorities to engage in more co-ordination so that when one utility digs up a road another can take advantage of the fact and the same piece of road is not dug up three times in a period. If we

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can give incentives to local authorities, if they have to dig up the road, to do it quickly, and allow all the utilities to take advantage of that, a great deal of grief could be avoided for the travelling public.

Mr. Don Foster: I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and I hope that the Minister will consider his suggestion seriously. All hon. Members present tonight, and hundreds who are not, could cite many examples of problems that have occurred in their constituencies. They may regret that they were not here tonight. This is one example where hon. Members on both sides of the House could obtain popular support back home by saying how desperately keen they are on the amendment.

While I accept the importance of, as the Minister puts it, consulting widely, does he accept that he should also consult quickly? What is his current estimate of when the regulations will be introduced--as I was delighted to hear, by affirmative decision by both Houses. This is the first occasion that I can recall in my nine years in Parliament that we have had two affirmatives to one negative resolution, and I welcome that.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I welcome the change. We hear a lot of calls nowadays for deregulation. This is one of the wonderful examples of deregulation that has been an unmitigated disaster. Those of us who have served on councils can wax lyrical about the problems that deregulation has caused. I will not go on about that because the other place has done us proud and I hope that the amendment will be universally acclaimed. As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, we will all be acclaiming it in our press releases.

One of the biggest problems is caused when statutory undertakers have already done the work and apply retrospectively to the local highway authority to complete it. I wonder whether that can be examined. There is certainly a call for some universality in compensation, especially where businesses are affected. I never cease to be amazed by the difference between what undertakers offer. The same people are often affected, and it causes nothing but disagreement when they go to the same undertaker at different times and the sums offered are very different.

Another reason that the state of the roads is so bad is the number of previously dug trenches. That is one of my greatest bugbears. I hope that inspections are not only carried out immediately, but that a regime of long-term inspection can be set up so that extremely poor work can be dealt with.

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