Out of the jam: reducing congestion on our roads - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from the City of London Corporation (ETM 35)

INTRODUCTION

1.  The City of London Corporation welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into Effective Road and Traffic Management. The City Corporation was an early advocate of a Code of Practice for Roadworks in the late 1990s produced a Voluntary Code on the Coordination of Streetworks. The Code, produced at a time when roadworks were creating significant disruption on City streets, contains principles aimed at facilitating efficient road management. It has three pillars - a notice system (now in place under the statutory permit scheme), special treatment for 'sensitive' streets, and coordination tools. Importantly, the Code recognises that a balance must be struck between the needs of all parties and that those who are inconvenienced by roadworks are often also consumers of the utility.

REINSTATEMENT

2.  Key provisions in the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 that would give highway authorities significant powers to ensure efficient and effective road management have not yet fully been brought into force. Sections 78 and 78A of the Act set out a scheme which would provide highway authorities with a power to require utility companies to contribute to the cost of repairing long term damage to the street and to costs of resurfacing. One example of the relevance of such powers is that when a length of highway has been repeatedly excavated and reconstructed numerous times, that activity invariably leads to a general and dramatic deterioration in the quality of the road surface and sometimes leads to road collapse.[39] In such circumstances, street authorities, under current rules, find it impossible to recover the cost of remedial works. While section 78 of the Act is technically in force, the operative provisions are activated by Regulations and no such Regulations have been made. Section 78A of the Act is not in force. Authorities do not have alternative powers to sections78 and 78A.

3.  The need for the general power to require utility companies to contribute, as just described, is emphasised by the difficulty of allocating responsibility for surface or structural failure to the last contractor in a line of contractors, all of whom have added to the overall deterioration of the street.

LANE RENTAL

4.  The City supports the Road Management Concordat recently reached between the Mayor of London and The Congress of Leaders. The Concordat reflects some of the main principles of the City Code mentioned above, and advocates lane rental, but provides little detail. The City may be able to support lane rental provided it is applied to all major routes and not, for example, only to a narrow category of roads (eg TfL roads), and provided that other issues, such as the costs of administering the scheme, were satisfactory. Having it apply to just a narrow category of roads would tend to force utility companies to concentrate resources in these areas, or to alter their planned routes to the detriment of other (borough) roads.

5.  The City does, however, have some reservations. Lane rental is intended to apply a financial value to street occupation, such that the utilities take this into account when planning their works. Whether this has any impact on reducing the duration of works remains to be seen; whether this can be done effectively without other consequences (like disturbance through night working) also must be assessed, and if it has any impact on the utilities costs depends on whether those costs are passed on. In this latter respect, an assessment must be made of the possibility that utility companies will pass on the cost to consumers - such a move would reduce the impact of lane rental as an incentive on the utility company to speed up its street works. The utilities have always argued the cost would simply be an addition to domestic and customer bills. For planned works, they would no doubt press the regulator for more leeway. On customer connections (and some of these in the City are of very long duration) they might pass the cost to developers. Emergencies too would have a cost, no doubt reflected in customer bills.

6.  Trying to implement lane rental has lead to entrenched attitudes between utilities & local authorities, to the point where its introduction has taken a considerable period of time, with one inconclusive trial. What is needed, in the City's view, is something that builds on the better working relationship that permitting has stimulated, whilst encouraging the utilities to improve. In this respect, lane rental may have a role, but it is not clear how it might be used to encourage the utilities to improve their excavation techniques, or their record keeping, or their working together to minimise street occupation.

7.  Other options should, therefore, be considered that develop the longer term responsibility of the utilities towards minimising street occupation. Any policy should encourage utilities to improve continually and the City has proposed a scheme that would run alongside the permit scheme under which utilities would propose a target time for every type of work. Early reaction from the main utilities on this so far has been unenthusiastic, citing the national utilities' usual views on the current legislation, but the City is seeking other major utilities' views on its workability. Key to the process would be the commitment to continuous improvement, offsetting occasions when utilities finished early in some locations against times when they overran (measured over a period), and perhaps with any 'fines' for overruns being reinvested in either underground mapping or whole-road reinstatement (as set out above).

8.  The City acknowledges that this proposal's drawback might be that it did not appear to "hit" the utilities in the way that lane rental purports to do. But in the long run, it is in street authorities' interests to find a way of co-existing with the utilities and simply punishing the utilities would be counterproductive.

PERMIT SCHEMES

9.  The permit system requires an undertaker to notify a highway authority of proposed works but does not control the duration of a company's activities. Nevertheless, by ensuring highway authorities have notice of planned works, permit schemes improves the ability of authorities to plan around those works. Permitting has encouraged co-operation and pre-planning, to the point where City highway inspectors are now much more engaged with the utilities on settling the details of every site before a permit is submitted. As a result, the City has not recently had to issue any statutory notices for overruns.

10.  The fundamental shortcoming of duration management through the current permitting system is that while it appears to provide highway authorities with powers to coordinate street works, it does not, in the City's view, in practice give authorities that power. It is only possible to coordinate to the extent that highway authorities have advanced knowledge of the utilities' plans and the notice periods given under permitting are often too short to do that.

11.  More effective road management would, therefore, be facilitated by requiring undertakers to lodge permits for planned works further in advance. This would enable highway authorities to coordinate works better among and between undertakers and go some way to stop the main complaint we hear from the public about the same road being dug up twice in quick succession. If authorities were given a further power to timetable works within a bracket of time around the dates set out in a permit, they would be in a position to bring together multiple undertakers to work on one site at one time. Such an initiative could have significant beneficial effects for effective road and traffic management.

MAPPING

12.  Some of the delays in the completion of highway works are due to the absence of maps showing underground subways, basements, pipes and other obstacles. One consequence of this is that undertakers may not have an accurate understanding of the best route for their works before they start. Furthermore, an undertaker may be held up if it discovers an unexpected underground obstruction.

13.  In many locations there is no more room underground. This problem is felt especially acutely in the Square Mile. This for example has caused a gas main to be laid twice, the first time too shallow (within the carriageway construction) as the route first planned was not practical but the permit time could not be extended. A second set of works were required to remedy the initial problem—so the road was dug up twice. Thames Water's programme of replacement in the City has taken more than double its original projected time—partly because they simply underestimated the difficulty of weaving their main among all the others.

14.  One of the ways to mitigate such problems is to mandate an underground mapping system so that when a highway is excavated the undertaker plots the obstacles and feeds the data into a central coordinating body. At present no-one is responsible for the mapping of what is under the street, or for holding the data although several organisations are working on this and it is understood that at least one trial is nearly funded.

PIPE SUBWAYS

15.  The City of London owns and operates over 6km of existing pipe subways (fully accessible utilities tunnels) which were constructed between 1869 and 1995 and are used to deliver gas, electricity, water, telecommunications and decentralised energy services. These have proved invaluable over the years in supplying City buildings. The pipe subways are located in various geographical areas across the Square Mile, although they do not provide comprehensive connectivity across the main utilities' supply routes in the City. There is, however, potential to extend the network which would provide benefits to utilities companies—allowing easier installation, maintenance, and access of their plant, a reduction in the level of street works and associated disruption, and prevention of weakening of road surfaces caused by repeated excavation. Utilities companies are required to use pipe subways (where they exist) under the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1900, and are not allowed to deploy infrastructure elsewhere within that highway. Utilities currently pay a small rental fee, which is calculated to cover bare maintenance costs, for each metre of plant installed in the pipe subways. The current rental structure may, however, serve as a template for a scheme designed to return investment funds for the construction of new pipe subways.

16.  The City has recently completed a feasibility study to extend the pipe subways network, and further research is progress. The research will consider funding options and detailed technical constraints involved in delivering new pipe subways throughout the City of London.

February 2011


39   Note that each undertaker is, separately, responsible for reinstating highway. Thus where multiple undertakers dig up and replace highways one after another, each undertaker's work is carried out in isolation from the others. Highway authorities have no power to recover the cost of "final" remediation works -so as, for example, to properly repair an entire road surface or to create a uniform surface following a series of works. Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 15 September 2011