By Marcus Leach
New powers to help councils cut the disruption caused by road works were announced today (Thursday) by Transport Minister Norman Baker.
Under ‘lane rental’ schemes councils will be able to charge utility companies up to £2,500 a day to dig up the busiest roads during peak times when road works cause the most disruption. This will incentivise utility firms to carry out their works more quickly and at times when roads are quieter. Companies would be able to avoid the charges by carrying out works during off-peak periods or, if appropriate, at night.
Following consultation, the Department for Transport has today published guidance for local authorities wanting to put lane rental schemes in place. In order to gather evidence on the effectiveness of lane rental, the Department has proposed that schemes should initially be used in up to three pioneer authorities - one metropolitan area and two others - and is inviting applications from interested local authorities.
The successful pioneer areas will need to have exhausted other options, including using a permit scheme. They will also be required to evaluate their lane rental schemes annually and this evidence will be used to decide how further lane rental schemes should be implemented.
"It is incredibly frustrating to find vital roads being dug up in the middle of the rush hour or, even worse, traffic lanes closed when no one is even carrying out any work," Norman Baker said.
"This disruption is not only inconvenient but very expensive, with roadworks-related congestion costing the economy an estimated £4 billion a year, which is why we are taking firm action.
“While permit schemes are working well to reduce disruption from roadworks in areas where they have been sanctioned we think it sensible to try out a further option. We believe lane rental schemes provide a further incentive to utility companies and local authorities to carry out their works at times when they will cause the minimum disruption and to complete them as quickly as possible.”
The guidance which accompanies the new powers makes it clear that lane rental charges must be avoidable and proportionate to the costs of congestion. Councils are also being encouraged to apply the same principles to their own works and come forward with lane rental schemes which fit the needs of their local area.
Any revenue raised from the implementation of lane rental charges will have to be used by councils to fund measures which could help to reduce future road works disruption. This could include infrastructure work, research or measures to improve the management of works.
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