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RAC urges `fine' for roadworks

Cable and utility companies should pay up to pounds 5,000 a day for digging up roads and causing traffic congestion and delays, the RAC says.

The money could be used for improvements such as road and rail schemes, the RAC suggests in a discussion paper on funding transport. Under the 1991 Streetworks Act councils were given powers to impose penalties if contractors exceed the permitted timescale for streetworks, but the rules have never been implemented.

Edmund King, the RAC campaigns manager, said pounds 5,000 a day was cheap for disruption in an urban area. He cited a recent example in central London where a cable company damaged gas mains in Rosebery Avenue and British Gas spent a month making the right part but then damaged a Thames Water sewer. "This caused delays in a large part of central London ... It was a comedy of errors that cost Londoners millions of pounds."

Recognising the limits on government spending, the RAC suggests two further ways of raising revenue for transport schemes. First, it suggests that a transport rate be levied on firms by a local authority, with the money being earmarked for specific transport projects.

The City of London Corporation has already put forward the idea of a voluntary extra rate in order to bring forward much needed improvements to the Tube and rail systems but so far has been stymied by opposition from the Treasury over the plan.

The RAC also suggests that the concept of "planning gain", whereby developers contribute to the costs of local infrastructure, should be extended to ensure big transport schemes are included, rather than just nearby roads and junctions.

9 Funding and managing the future of transport in the UK, RAC, 14 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5BL, pounds 5.