Legislation to end confusion on road works

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The Independent Online
THERE will be fewer potholes to ensnare unwary road users if new legislation, which comes into force on 1 January, is successful.

The long-awaited New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 comes seven years after the Government set out to clear up the confused legislation surrounding the digging of 5 million holes a year.

The Government hopes that there will be better planning and co-ordination and, crucially, fewer patch repairs which quickly deteriorate into potholes. The new law closely follows the recommendations of the Horne Committee, which reported in 1986, and has been welcomed by both the utility companies and local authorities. It ends years of battles between the two groups with both sides blaming each other for the deteriorating condition of roads caused by the failure to co-ordinate the digging.

Before the new law, the energy, water and telecommuncations companies were allowed to dig up roads but not to reinstate them, except for providing a patch repair. Later, often after several months or even years, the highway authority - the local council - would bring the road back up to standard and charge the utility for the job.

Under the new system it will be the responsibility of the firm which performs the original work to bring the road back up to the required standard.

The Government also hopes to reduce the number of times a road is dug up through the introduction by the mid-1990s of a pounds 12m national computerised system which will co-ordinate when and where work is being carried out. The frequent complaint from road users about holes being dug in newly relaid roads should also become a thing of the past as utilities will be banned from digging after resurfacing for 12 months, except in emergencies.

Highway authorities will be given the power to prevent utilities from carrying out work at 'traffic sensitive' times, forcing them, for example, to avoid rush hours on high streets and other major roads.

Utilities will also be required to put up signs giving a telephone number in case of an emergency for both themselves and the contractor carrying out the work.

By mid 1994 all street work will have to be carried out under a qualified supervisor, and by August 1997 every site will be required to have at least one qualified operative present.

Kenneth Carlisle, the Minister for Roads and Traffic, said: 'The changes will result in a gradual improvement rather than an overnight transformation but we can look forward to using a road network with road repairs without water-filled craters, an end to newly surfaced roads being dug up almost immediately and an end to inadequately guarded and poorly lit sites.'