Written evidence from the City of London
Corporation (ETM 35)|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 problemso the road was dug up twice. Thames
Water's programme of replacement in the City has taken more than
double its original projected timepartly because they simply
underestimated the difficulty of weaving their main among all
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.
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 companiesallowing
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.
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