Roadworks

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 16th November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Gavron Lord Gavron Labour 2:30 pm, 16th November 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How successful the plan to charge rent to organisations involved in digging holes in the road has been in the pilot areas.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the pilot schemes testing the lane rental powers in Camden and Middlesbrough ended in April. Copies of Halcrow's monitoring report which assessed the schemes were placed in the Library of the House in July. Halcrow concluded that the schemes as operated in those two areas had only a limited effect in reducing disruption caused by utility works.

Photo of Lord Gavron Lord Gavron Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. On a typical day in autumn, on my four-mile journey through Camden from my home to my office, I pass 15 holes in the road, including one that is 30 yards long and one that is 50 yards long, which are controlled by traffic lights. At 10 o'clock in the morning, I have never seen more than three of the 15 holes—that is, 20 per cent—with anyone working in them.

Does my noble friend realise the substantial cost to the economy of journeys, including bus journeys, being prolonged by 50 per cent, and sometimes 100 per cent? There are dangers to our health and safety that are caused by the delays to ambulances and police cars, which are also affected by those holes in the road. Does the Minister agree that to encourage working—even overtime working—on those holes would be of benefit to our economy as well as to our health and safety?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for setting out his direct experience of those difficulties. Perhaps I may emphasise that the problems are greater than just the journey from Camden to Westminster. That is why last year we introduced the Traffic Management Act, which includes a whole range of measures to improve the way in which work by utility companies is done on our roads; for instance, they must obtain permits before they can begin work and there will be fines and penalties if they overstay their welcome.

The Government are seized of the fact that this is a very real issue, as my noble friend has indicated. It is an issue across the length and breadth of the land. We are tackling it.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Environment and Transport

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the pilot scheme was a total disaster? Camden High Street was dug up more than 144 times in one year. Glasgow's Great Western Road was dug up 223 times, which would be a new hole for nearly every working day of the year. Bearing in mind what the Halcrow report stated, will the Minister not go further down the road of pilot schemes?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I hope that that was what I indicated in my initial Answer. We do not regard the evidence from this pilot scheme as being helpful with regard to lane rental. That is why the powers in the Traffic Management Act pursue other strategies, which will be implemented from 4 January 2005. So I accept what the noble Lord says.

However, it would be a little harsh to say that when a pilot is launched and proves that a particular scheme does not work, it is a failure. The pilot has identified that we need to think again, which is exactly what we are doing.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Gavron, does the Minister agree that only by the introduction of a computer system, such as the London street works computer, can this horrendous situation be brought under control? Is the Minister planning that other local authorities will have such a scheme and that authorities at the lower level will co-operate with those at a higher level in bringing the Traffic Management Act properly into focus?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the fact that local authorities will be charged with a network management duty anticipates that they will recognise that it can be effected not just in their own authority but in co-operation with others, particularly our major conurbations—for example, London, Glasgow and so on.

The assumption behind the Traffic Management Act and its consequent network management duty is that that level of co-operation will be sought. Of course, in our consultations thus far with local authorities, we have had positive responses.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, I agree with much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gavron. Can the Minister explain why one sees people working on these beastly holes on so few occasions? I live on the Battersea side of Chelsea Bridge where for months and months there has been a hole. Somehow or other it has now been filled in. I can assume only that at midnight the fairies came along and did something about it.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, why so little work appears to be done may have something to do with the time of day at which one seeks to witness such activity. However, the most important question is whether the utilities which need to dig up the roads have as their major priority getting the work done in the shortest possible time by employing the most intensive amount of labour on it. From the pilot study, we have identified that the rental scheme will not work effectively, but our traffic management scheme will impose quite significant fines on utilities, which must first secure a permit for the length of their occupation of the road. Should they overrun the period of occupation, substantial fines will be imposed which ought to obviate the somewhat annoying problem of a road being closed and no one doing any work.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, surely if the rents were high enough, the pilots would have worked?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the rents were pitched at quite a high level, but it seems clear that the contractors were prepared to absorb those costs. Of course the level of the rents may not have been high enough, but I should say that the Traffic Management Act envisages penalties substantially higher—four or five times more—than the fees charged in the rental system. We think that the utilities will take very seriously the sanctions imposed by that legislation.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the supplementary question put by his noble friend is one of the most eloquent and cogent that I have heard on this subject? Is he further aware that his noble friend might be as disappointed as I that the Government's reaction to this problem has been notable for its lethargy? The Government's reliance on the fact that they have done some legislating is neither here nor there. When a sensible Act of Parliament has been passed, you want action to follow, but it does not.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the eloquence of my noble friend in asking his questions has been matched only by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in his persistence on this issue. Of course he is right to point out that thus far the Government have only legislated. Nevertheless, the passage of the Bill took several months. We now have the legislation in place and we have conducted the necessary consultation with local authorities and others to implement it. As I have said, from 4 January next, when the network management duty on local authorities becomes established as a consequence of the Act, we shall see progress follow from that.