Clause 44 - The Street works register

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 3rd February 2004.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I want briefly to bring a point to the Minister's attention. One of the concerns that a number of utilities have with the register relates to road works and the Highways Agency. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw made a point about the Highways Agency's own works being included. How will it ensure that its planning ties in with the local authorities' works? Given that the Highways Agency plans cross the country, it must ensure that its schemes tie in with those of a number of authorities. We need to ensure that the central register enables sharing between different authorities so that the utilities can plan taking those authorities into account, and many would argue that there should be an electronic register. The issue of data sharing is key. Will the Minister ensure that these data protection and data sharing issues are addressed?

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

The clause gives the opportunity to raise a potential weakness in the Bill, which relates to unadopted roads. I seek the Minister's advice on the matter, and perhaps he will send it in writing as there is such a wide array of expertise available on the issue.

Will unadopted roads be covered by the clause? In my constituency there are problems with two sorts of unadopted roads. Some are lined by recently built houses—though some of the disputes in these cases go back 15 years—and I shall come back to those later if I have the opportunity. The other example is perhaps more pertinent. I cite the example of Mill street in Worksop, which is an unadopted road where there is

an ongoing dispute about whether it should be adopted. The highways authority allegedly laid down tarmacadam 20 years ago and there is a dispute about whether that makes it an adopted road, or whether it should be adopted because of that.

I can see a number of complications relating to Mill street tied up in the legislation. It may help to resolve the problem and get the thing adopted and tarmacked, which it should be anyway. How do unadopted roads fit with the clause? On the issue of older unadopted roads, are the Government not missing an opportunity to put responsibility on local authorities under the Bill to adopt roads that have existed for a significant period into which utilities have been placed so that oddities throughout the country, such as Mill street, get the same service as the rest of us?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Minister give us some assurance that the amendment to the street works register requirement is not going to cover too much trivial and bureaucratic nonsense? Clause 44, as drafted, could put an obligation on a street authority to put on a register every pile of building material, rubbish or other things deposited on the highway, even though it might be there for a relatively short time. If we start requiring local authorities to do that, we are putting a disproportionate burden on them.

I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance about the circumstances in which the duties will arise and an assurance that they are not going to cover those deposits that are not on the ground for very long. In some parts of the country rubbish is tipped and it takes a long time to have it cleared away. In the street where I live, in Lambeth, a car has been abandoned for several days and not removed. The idea that Lambeth council, which is a failing or failed council, should be required to put that on a register is as ludicrous as requiring the registration of skips that are there for a short time. I would be grateful for some assurances on that.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am perplexed. I am trying to understand what an abandoned car has to do with street works and why it should be on a register.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Trivial bureaucratic nonsense was largely the domain of the last Administration. Nothing that this Government do, in any way, shape or form, is trivial, bureaucratic or nonsense.

The register can be limited by regulation, so rubbish will not, I suspect, be included. If the disruption or its cause is gone, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, by the time it has gone through the bureaucracy of getting registered, that is clearly not the thrust of the Bill at all.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

No, I can't be bothered at the moment, because I have said nothing of any importance. We could come back to the hon. Gentleman a bit later—I do not mean to be flippant.

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw makes about unadopted road is an entirely fair one. As I read it, we are talking specifically about requiring street authorities to keep a register showing

with respect to each street for which they are responsible such information as may be prescribed. As I understand it, local authorities are not responsible for unadopted road—so his is a fair point that, with his indulgence, I shall have to explore further and get back to him on. It is a point well made. I have heard before of such difficulties. The classic unadopted road is posh people who live up some avenue and do not have anything to do with the council. I am being London-centric in that regard.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

When my hon. Friend looks at unadopted roads, can he ensure that bodies such as English Partnerships, which has a number of roads around the country that have yet to be adopted, are reminded of its importance?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

At the risk, as Ernie Bevin once said, of opening a Pandora's box and watching a Trojan horse jump out, I will do that. The general point about unadopted roads is an entirely fair one that, if only for my own satisfaction, is worthy of exploration.

The principle of the streets works register is in clause 53 of the principal Bill. In the main, clause 44 simply seeks to broaden that slightly. At present, registers have to contain, among other things, information on utilities' street works being carried out on those roads as well as the authority's own road works. The clause will allow the regulations to require that other information also be kept, notably about skips and scaffolding, which were not covered by the 1991 Act, and the position of apparatus buried beneath the roads.

The clause also clarifies that central registers can be set up to contain information on more than one authority area and that the Secretary of State may require authorities to provide information on their streets to the person operating the central register. I pray in aid and commend to hon. Members, if they get a chance, to look at the London works scheme by Transport for London, which is working with the London boroughs towards a system for its own roads by which it can know exactly what is happening on every road and street in London. That is the absolute aim. At present, the system covers its own network, not necessarily the wider network that might prevail if the relevant part of the Bill gets through. TfL plans to get to the stage at which it can link that information base to its CCTV operation in order to keep the flow of traffic moving and, if it so chooses, to send in some of its officers to unblock blockages in the system that can be clearly seen, or to deal with someone who is overrunning on street works or with some short-term disruptions. The scheme works terribly well, and more and more London boroughs are signing up to work with TfL on it. It is a very good example of a central register that will work well for all concerned.

Again, at the risk of sounding parrot-like, we shall work with local authorities and utilities to see how the central register can be implemented; how, as hon. Members have suggested, we can deploy technology in that regard—it is absolutely at the core of the London works scheme; and how we must factor in the planning of works. In reinforcing and enhancing the elements of the street works register in the principal 1991 Act, this clause will help rather than hinder all who are involved

in street works: utilities, other contractors and local authorities. People will find it worth while to visit Transport for London to discuss in detail the data that is now sitting in its central register.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister did not want to deal with rubbish. I did not introduce the concept of rubbish—it is in the Bill. If he wishes to introduce an amendment on Report to exclude rubbish, or other things deposited, from the provisions of clause 44, it will certainly be supported warmly on this side of the Committee, because our concern is that the Bill should not be disproportionate. If we start requiring authorities to record rubbish on the streets, we are putting the cart before the horse. Would not it be better to require them to remove the rubbish first?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In terms of requirements to remove rubbish, that is not the purpose of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman knows fine well—this will come out in discussion of the regulations—that many contractors will use the street or road as a permanent or at least temporary dump for their building materials or rubbish, for the duration of their work. As such, it is entirely appropriate to include that element as well as skips in the Bill.

I was referring to what I thought the hon. Gentleman was referring to: his suggestion that the authority should not have to register rubbish that will probably be cleared up then and there or by the end of the working day, then come back and say that it is gone, so it does not matter. There are examples throughout London of sites that effectively become a builder's yard for the duration of the contractor's work. That cannot be right or appropriate either for the local authority's maintaining its ability to fulfil its network management duty or for the efficient use of the public street or road.

Generally, street works must be done on positive terms. Contractors must work with everyone else who needs to use the road, rather than simply taking the road as a gift for the duration of their works. That happens rarely, but to the extent that it happens in London, which is principally what I have been talking about, it can be entirely disruptive. As a suggestion for inclusion in the register, it is right and proper, but the black bag that will not be there by the end of the day or the week is not.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.