Draft Local Authorities (Contracting out of Highway Functions) (England) Order 2001 and Draft Street Works (Charges for Occupation of the Highway) (England) Regulations 2001

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Mr. Moss: I hope that the Minister will get round to answering the critical question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, who asked whether the ''d'' in the regulations was for duration. Are we talking about days or, as my hon. Friend eloquently put it, hours?

Ms Keeble: I shall come to that.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet asked about lane sharing and co-ordination, As I said, much could be done to improve the situation. The public object less to the duration of work than to roads being dug up again the week after they were laid. That is a major grievance. The hon. Gentleman's solution was an obvious one, but, unfortunately, the obvious is not always practical or desirable for the utilities.

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The regulations give the definition of a ''day'', and there can be no doubt about it. The start of the works has to be given on a daily notice, and the works continue until notice is given. The requirement is for days and not hours.

The hon. Gentleman asked also whether we were imposing a stealth tax. Again, I point out that we are trying to deal with problems of congestion. He might say that the regulations represent an attack on utilities, but one could equally well say that the congestion and other problems caused by street works place an undue burden on a huge number of people--members of both the public and the business community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich raised a number of matters. He obviously has detailed knowledge, not only through his local authority role but because of what he knows of the telecoms industry. Referring to regulation 5(4), he asked whether the period of time would be uprated. It is a pilot scheme, and any rolling-out of the scheme would have to be further considered by the House. The pilot scheme lasts until April 2004, or a shorter time if, for some reason, the local authorities decide not to go ahead or decide on a shorter time. On junctions, as with emergency works, it will be for the pilot scheme authorities to decide.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West, who obviously has a detailed knowledge of the matter, asked whether I had met NJUG. Indeed, I have. Our discussions were constructive, and the joint utilities set out their concerns. We talked about various matters, including lane sharing, at some length. I have also met at least one of the specific groups. It has helped to hear their concerns, but the Government are committed to dealing with the problem of congestion and street works.

The hon. Gentleman asked also about base-line measurements. Camden and Middlesbrough are working on that, and I assure him that quite a lot of studies are being undertaken. NJUG is running its own streetwise campaign, which is intended to ensure best practice. That brings us back to the competition that exists between some utilities. Not all of them have yet signed up to that campaign, although I believe that the major utilities are now on board.

I have a copy of the briefing from NJUG, and I am aware of the issues raised by the utilities with my hon. Friend the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness. However, as with so many other issues, we have to find a balance between the concerns expressed by the public and those raised by the utilities. We certainly feel that the balance comes down in favour of proceeding with the pilot schemes.

The hon. Gentleman also identified major issues with telecoms and Transco. Again, those matters have been discussed. However, we feel that the pilot schemes will provide us with a good basis for deciding on how to proceed when dealing with the thorny problem of street works. He also spoke about the problem of the local highway authorities; again, I

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point to the best practice guidance and the new performance indicators. I think that I have answered almost all the questions.

Peter Bottomley: It might be helpful if the Minister wrote to members of the Committee to spell out precisely the definition of ''duration''. We can understand the definition of a day, but the ''d'' in the formula is presumably in other regulations or the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. It would be useful to have that on paper. It would also be useful if she would confirm—she need not do so now—why the regulations stop working after three or four years, as I cannot find a reason. Again, that may be in other regulations or the 1991 Act, or I may have missed it in these regulations.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying that the overarching point is that there is an incentive to charge for overstaying, but not for necessary occupation. The incentive might come if she thought of recycling the funds to the utilities through the rating charges on their apparatus. Any utility that did its work far faster than others could receive a better share by paying fewer charges and having the virtue of other people's penalty payments on rate reductions.

Ms Keeble: The hon. Gentleman's final point was a speed-of-lightning summary of what sounded like a complex scheme. The introduction and provision of the pilot schemes is a direct reflection of the concern felt by the public about the problems caused by delays due to street works. The first results of the Halcrow study will arrive in January, and I hope that, some time later, the formal schemes from the pilot authorities will help us to deal with the careful management of street works. We have previously considered the definitions of large and small schemes.

I have answered almost all the questions that have been asked, so I hope that the Committee will not divide on the statutory instruments. They will improve a situation that causes big problems for members of the public.

Mr. Moss: The Minister has, indeed, answered many of the questions that have been put to her, but has singularly failed to answer the fundamental question. In many cases, people have to dig up roads, even if there is competition for the contract and it goes to the firm that offers to do the job in five days rather than 10, so why do the Government believe that a tax for digging up roads would be of any benefit in reducing the number dug up? I fail to see why that would be of benefit, so we will divide the Committee on the regulations.

The Chairman: For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that although we have debated the order and the regulations together, we shall dispose of them separately.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Local Authorities (Contracting Out of Highway Functions) (England) Order 2001.

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Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.

Division No. 1]

David, Mr. Wayne
Jackson, Glenda
Keeble, Ms Sally
McNamara, Mr. Kevin
Mole, Chris
Rapson, Syd
Watts, Mr. Dave
Woolas, Mr. Phil

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Bottomley, Peter
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Chapman, Sir Sydney
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Sanders, Mr. Adrian

Question accordingly agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Street Works (Charges for Occupation of the Highway) (England) Regulations 2001.

        Committee rose at two minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cran, Mr. James (Chairman)
Bottomley, Peter
Brazier, Mr.
Chapman, Sir Sydney
David, Mr.
Farrelly, Paul
Jackson, Glenda
Keeble, Ms
McNamara, Mr.
Mole, Chris
Moss, Mr.
Rapson, Syd
Sanders, Mr.
Watts, Mr.
Woolas, Mr.

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