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Potholes and Road Maintenance

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:17 am on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:17 am, 5th June 2018

I will, but I am very short of time and I have a lot of material to cover. In fact, I will not give way—I am going to crack on.

I have touched on the potholes review; let me talk very briefly about a few other things. Members mentioned the effect of poor road reinstatements by utility companies, and they are absolutely right to do so. There are powers to deal with such issues, and we are currently reviewing and updating the rules, known as the specification for the reinstatement of openings in highways, to ensure that the most innovative new techniques are adopted and that reinstatements are treated properly so that disruption is minimised wherever possible.

Hon. Members will be aware of something called lane rental, which we have pioneered in London and Kent. It is applied to the most congested 5% of the network and requires funds to be spent on ways of reducing congestion caused by street works, and not on general road maintenance. We have announced that that scheme will be used more widely over the next year or two. We will issue bidding guidance later this year for local authorities that want to take advantage of it.

The new street manager scheme, which we have set up, is a piece of software linked to a digital service that allows local authorities and other registered bodies to put in accurate and up-to-date data on live and planned works. It should enable utilities works to be better co-ordinated to put less pressure on roads. It is a very important long-term scheme.

Local authorities can choose whether to have permit schemes, which are a very effective way of planning and co-ordinating works to reduce the impact on congestion and on the roads. About 65% of local authorities have them. We are about to publish an evaluation of permit schemes, which shows that they are superior to the passive notices schemes used by the other 35% of authorities.

In the minute and a half I have left, let me touch on new technology. There are plenty of ways in which new technology can make a difference in this area. We are pioneering pothole spotting, using new technologies in partnership with the councils in Thurrock, York and Wiltshire. It involves high-definition cameras attached to vehicles to gather rich data about the highways and assess levels of road deterioration. That project, which has already won a national award, has enormous potential.

We are starting to work even more closely with the sector and key stakeholders, including the Highways Term Maintenance Association, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, the RAC Foundation, which has been mentioned, local highway authorities, contractors, consultants, academia and others to try to improve the work we do and to ensure “right first time” maintenance and higher quality road surfaces.

We all acknowledge the importance of this issue. I hope colleagues will understand my level of engagement as a Minister with this question and that of some of my officials. I have outlined my interest in having a longer-term, more strategic approach that covers urban and rural roads. I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton South East shares my optimism as we continue to work with local highway authorities on a wide range of initiatives, including the ones I have described, to improve our local road network.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.