By Daniel Hunter

Shoddy street works carried out by utility companies are costing small businesses thousands of pounds a week and stunting local growth, according to new research published.

Across the country high street shops are being forced to close, having deliveries delayed or seeing shoppers driven away by needless works which could easily be avoided.

Council highways bosses are also warning that having to repair poorly re-laid surfaces by utility company contractors costs taxpayers £218 million a year, and want more to be done so contractors can be held to account.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, has today organised a meeting of highways managers, business leaders, utility company executives and leading politicians where the research will be presented. They will discuss what measures can be taken to improve the quality of streetworks to lessen the impact on shops and so support local growth, as well as reduce the inconvenience to motorists and burden on council budgets.

Utility companies are responsible for about two million road openings a year. Though many are necessary, some could be avoided by better coordination between companies and 17 per cent — 340,000 - are poorly resurfaced meaning they have to redone at the expense of local councils, causing more traffic disruption and loss of earnings to local traders.

The LGA, in conjunction with the Association of Convenience Stores, last month surveyed hundreds of high street businesses across the country to assess the impact of nearby streetworks. Key findings include:

- 57 per cent of shops have had street works nearby over the past three years.
- 72 per cent of these were negatively affected by streetworks, with issues including forced closure, delivery delays, reduced footfall and reduced sales.
- 43 per cent were affected for at least a month, with nine per cent at least six months.
- 31 per cent say streetworks reduced their footfall by at least a quarter, with at worst some losing about 2,500 customers a week.
- Half say they lost at least 10 per cent of sales, with at worst some losing about £7,500 a week.
- 96 per cent would like to see councils given enough power to ensure roads are returned to the proper standard after streetworks, and 79 per cent believe utility companies should help finance the resurfacing.

Proposals on the table for discussion include:

- Deposit schemes whereby should streetworks be re-laid to a poor standard councils can easily use the deposit to fund the repair.
- An inspection and/or future repair charge paid by utility companies which would fund more streetworks inspections and/or support the cost of future resurfacing (currently councils can only afford to inspect about a quarter of utility street works and, even carried out properly, streetworks reduce the lifespan of a road)
- A spotters guide for traders so they can help identify and flag up poorly resurfaced streetworks to councils immediately after contractors have moved on so there can be no doubt over responsibility.
- An online star ratings system so reliable contractors can be easily be identified by utility companies.
- Easier roll-out of council permit schemes which can make utilities coordinate works to minimise disruption.

"Most streetworks are essential and in many cases utility companies carry them out efficiently and to a good standard," Cllr Peter Box, Chair of the Local Government Association's Economy and Transport Board, said.

"However, all too often the rush to get on to the next job leaves in its wake patches of shoddy resurfacing. Not only does this leave the council footing the bill to resurface the road properly, it means needless days of extra disruption are inflicted on nearby shops and motorists.

"In these tough economic times high street businesses need all the support they can get. Losing potential customers and thousands of pounds a week can devastate a small trader's balance sheets, making the difference between trading for another year or going to the wall. Thriving local economies are essential for national growth and currently they are being stunted by needless streetworks.

"Thousands of hours of streetworks disruption — closed roads, blocked pavements, temporary traffic lights, noisy drilling, restricted parking - are totally avoidable if only utility companies did the job properly. There's no excuse for shoddy resurfacing and it's unforgivable when it puts at risk the future of local shops, many of which are the product of years or even generations of hard work. The whole sector needs to sit down together and discuss how we can work together and make sure we keep streetworks disruption to an absolute minimum."

Shane Brennan, ACS Public Affairs Director, said: "Street works can cost convenience retailers dearly by obstructing access and footfall to their business and undermining regular passing trade. We want to see more done to ensure that business are consulted about upcoming street works and where necessary compensated if they over run."

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