By Ben Simmons

London will be the first city in the UK to make utility companies pay for the amount of time they dig up the busiest roads, incentivising them to complete works at the least disruptive times, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced today.

The scheme has been successfully lobbied for by the Mayor and has now been formally approved by the Department for Transport (DfT) to begin on 11 June 2012. This will allow TfL to charge utility firms up to £2,500 a day for working in congested areas or at busy times. It will cover around 330km (57 per cent) of the TfL road network (known as the red routes in London) which covers areas most susceptible to major disruption from roadworks. The new scheme will also apply to any TfL works carried out on its road network, further ensuring that works are delivered with minimal disruption. Furthermore, London's lead means other cities across the UK can now consider similar schemes.

By encouraging utility companies and highway authorities to carry out their work overnight or during off-peak hours, road users - including drivers, cyclists and bus passengers - will benefit from more reliable journey times and less disruption. Any additional revenue raised by the scheme once operating costs have been recovered will be put towards measures that could reduce disruption from roadworks, to be jointly overseen by TfL and the major utility companies. Specifically, this will be used to research new innovations such as quick curing materials and improved plating technology, which would allow excavations to be temporarily covered and roads to return to normal use more quickly.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: "This is a real victory for all London road users helping us to further tackle the scourge of shoddy and badly managed roadworks. Lane rental is a win-win as it will not only help traffic pump smoothly around the vital arteries of our road system, but also give us for the first time the chance to penalise disruptive works where it hurts - in the wallet - using the revenues to fund further innovative ways to keep London’s roads moving."

Peter Hendy, London’s Transport Commissioner, said: "By introducing a lane rental scheme in London, we can now physically and fiscally encourage roadworks to take place outside the busiest hours, cutting unnecessarily prolonged and disruptive roadworks from our road network. By using any surplus raised to discover new and innovative working methods, TfL and the utility companies can further ensure that works take place outside of the charging periods, allowing all to benefit greatly."

The introduction of this groundbreaking scheme will be the latest weapon in the Mayor’s battle against roadworks. Already this year, this campaign has led to nearly 4,000 fewer roadworks on Transport for London’s roads between last April and the end of 2011 when compared to the same period in 2010, a fall of 13 per cent.

By the end of this financial year, serious and severe disruption caused by roadworks on London’s red routes is expected to be down by almost 40 per cent since permitting was introduced in January 2010. This was a result of closer working with the boroughs and utility companies, the introduction of the roadworks permitting scheme which has been embraced by every London borough, a reduction in the roadworks cap which restricts the number of works that can be carried out at any one time, and the Report IT system which enables Londoners to name and shame bad practice. The lane rental scheme will further build on this, with the target of reducing disruption by a further 33 per cent by 2015.

Last June, the DfT and TfL launched a joint innovation fund which would research and develop new technology to reduce the disruption caused by road works. The 18-month project, run by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), is examining innovative engineering techniques which could see utilities use temporary road surfacing methods such as plating, fast-setting replacement road surfaces or more innovative methods such as core and vac techniques, which allows utility works to be carried out under the road surface without the need to excavate a large area of the road surface. All these methods would allow both TfL and utility companies to carry out more work at quieter times, meaning that more roads could be re-opened during peak traffic periods; cutting delays and disruption across the Capital.

Metropolitan Police Service Traffic-trained Police Community Support Officers, who patrol the TLRN on a daily basis, will play a key role in monitoring works under the Lane Rental scheme. More than 270 officers will monitor roadworks to ensure promoters are working during operational hours and take any immediate action required should they spot bad practices by utility companies. During 2011, more than 15,600 inspections carried out by the team on activities taking place on the TLRN of which more than 1,000 were found to non-compliant with industry standards, leading to more that £56,000 in fines against utility companies.