Roadworks: Rayleigh

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport) 2:45 pm, 13th March 2020

I thank my right hon. Friend Mr Francois for securing the debate. Having recently had a number of meetings with him about his constituents’ concerns about their rail service, I am pleased that this debate is about the roads. I am quite sure that, following his speech, members and officers of Essex County Council will take a much more pragmatic and hands-on approach to the issues he has raised.

I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing a private Member’s Bill—it is a lottery that I have won previously—and on the thoughts, views and ideas that he is clearly giving towards how the impact of roadworks on congestion can be reduced. I promise that my Department will work with him constructively on his Bill, and I look forward to seeing a draft in due course.

We all use our highways to travel every day, and how we manage them has a direct impact on everyone’s lives. Congestion, with all its causes, and the condition of our roads are recurring themes that the Government hear about regularly, so it is a clear focus of attention for my colleagues in the Department for Transport. That focus is only going to become more important as, over the coming years, the number of roadworks will increase as a result of new housing developments and in order to deliver the Government’s commitment that full-fibre and gigabit broadband will be available for every home and business across the UK as soon as possible. That will involve digging up a lot of roads.

We all want out road network to be improved, and my right hon. Friend will be pleased to have heard the commitment in Wednesday’s Budget that £2.5 billion will be available to fix potholes and to resurface roads in England over the next five years. We know that there will continue to be roadworks, but that does not mean that they should last any longer than is needed. We all want the services provided by utility companies, and we want them to maintain and improve their infrastructure, but we also know that there are over 2 million roadworks taking place in England each year, and that these result in about £4 billion of congestion costs. That is a nut that it is worth trying to crack.

There is a great deal of scope for works to be planned, managed and co-ordinated more effectively, and for the public to be told about when works are happening and warned about the impact they might have on their journeys. That is why the Government have taken a number of actions in recent years. We have invested over £10 million in the new street manager digital service, which will transform the planning, management and communication of roadworks. This new service will be used by all local authorities and utility companies from 1 April this year. From July we plan to publish open data on live and planned works for technology and sat-nav companies and app developers to develop products for road users so that they, in turn, can plan their journeys more effectively.

Street Manager will deliver many benefits, including data that can be used to monitor performance. It will support greater co-ordination, forward planning and more joint works. All local authorities, utility companies and their contractors will be able to have a single view of the street and visibility of the whole network, to plan and co-ordinate works for the benefit of road users. We also have a commitment to continue improving the service to ensure that it continues to meet users’ needs.

Street works permit schemes have been available for local authorities to operate since 2007. Those have proved to be a very effective way of managing and co-ordinating works. Authorities that operate schemes have also seen that road user satisfaction is much improved. We have strongly encouraged all authorities to introduce schemes, and almost every authority now has a scheme in place. Essex County Council has operated a scheme since 2015. We will continue to ensure that all authorities have schemes in place, and as a result, there will be greater consistency for the industry and benefits for all road users.

We will shortly publish an updated technical specification for reinstatements, which will improve quality and performance. Reinstatements are needed after works have been completed. That update will be the first since 2010, and it will support and allow greater innovation and improve quality and performance.

We announced in 2019 that local authorities can introduce lane rental schemes, which allow authorities to charge utilities up to £2,500 per day for works on the busiest roads at the busiest times. That is normally around 5% of the authority’s network. Charges encourage companies to move the location of their works, carry them out at less busy times, complete them as soon as possible or carry out joint works, which can attract discounts or charges that can be waived. Any surplus revenue can be spent by the authority on ways of reducing the impact of works on congestion. Two schemes are operating at the moment in Kent and on Transport for London’s network. Authorities that want to set up schemes can bid to the Secretary of State for approval, and we have issued bidding guidance on how they can do that.

We will continue our work and plan to look at other aspects of how to regulate roadworks, to see whether further improvements to those schemes can be made. For example, works start and stop notices at weekends, which are needed to give real-time updates to road users, do not need to be sent until 10 am the following Monday, and overrun charges do not currently apply at weekends. An amendment to legislation following a period of consultation, including within Government, would be needed to resolve that—indeed, my right hon. Friend might choose to look at that in his private Member’s Bill. The Department is amazingly sympathetic to the issue and will consider that, as well as other specific problems.