Will new permit scheme for utility firms reduce roadwork delays?
PUBLISHED: 10:55 29 January 2020 | UPDATED: 13:28 29 January 2020
Plans to introduce permits for utility firms carrying out roadworks have been given the green light, which aims to reduce disruption for motorists.
Currently Suffolk County Council operates a "noticing" scheme where utility companies such as gas, electricity and water operators only need to inform the council of its intention to do works.
The new scheme, approved by the county council's cabinet on Tuesday, means firms will have to apply for a permit, which must be displayed at the works at all time.
READ MORE: Permit scheme delay 'political points-scoring' says Labour group
According to Conservative cabinet member for highways Andrew Reid, this will make it easier for motorists to see what works are going on and for how long.
The scheme will also be based on a cost system where firms wishing to carry out works over many days or at peak times will be required to pay more, which aims to encourage work at less disruptive times.
Mr Reid said: "Roadworks are the bane of the lives of all of us who travel by road - whether that's by bike, bus, car, van or truck.
"But roadworks everywhere wear out over time and need to be patched up or renewed. Equally the utilities that we all rely on - gas, water, electricity, telephones, all depend on that infrastructure.
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"We have undertaken a detailed analysis and consulted on changing to a permit scheme.
"The network assurance team will require additional staff to operate this, and we believe we are able to operate this on a cost neutral basis.
"A permit scheme will ensure that any improvement works by Suffolk Highways and the public utilities can be better co-ordinated in the future.
"That will potentially result in less disruption and less time that vehicles spend in traffic and delays, benefitting those who live work and visit our county."
The permit scheme will be introduced in April. It is likely to carry additional conditions or mechanisms for fines for firms which do not meet the criteria of their permit, such as overrunning works.
Proposals for a permit scheme had notably been called for by the opposition Labour group in March 2017, but were rejected because the Conservative administration had fears about rising costs and a lack of evidence.
Since then, numerous secretaries of state for transport have been pushing for local authorities to adopt the permit system, which Mr Reid said had forced the council's hand to adopt the scheme - despite having run a noticing scheme that was "entirely fit for purpose".
Labour councillor Sandra Gage, then opposition spokeswoman for highways, this week said: "I proposed exactly the same scheme Suffolk County Council is now proposing three years ago at a meeting of the full council.
"I lost the vote by three, thanks to the very same Conservative councillors who are now voting for exactly the same roadworks permit scheme I proposed in 2017. Politics at its worst."