Utility firms face hourly charges for digging up busy roads

Utility firms face hourly charges while they complete roadworks.
Utility firms face hourly charges while they complete roadworks.

Utility companies would be charged by the hour for digging up busy roads in England under Government proposals.

Hitting firms with a bill could halve the number of delays motorists face, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Around 2.5 million roadworks are carried out every year costing the economy an estimated £4 billion in lost working hours and delayed deliveries.

The Department for Transport is consulting on plans following trials in London and Kent and is set to introduce reforms in 2019.

Mr Grayling said: "Delays caused by roadworks can be the bane of drivers' lives - especially when they take place at rush hour on busy routes.

"These proposals would give councils greater powers to ensure utility companies avoid carrying out works at the busiest times and on the most popular routes.

"This would not only improve journeys and cut congestion but also save businesses from the increased costs they incur as a result of traffic on our roads."

AA president Edmund King warned that it "would not be acceptable" if roads are patched up quickly but poorly to keep within the rental period.

"One issue that we hope is resolved with lane rental is making sure that whoever digs up the road returns it back in a good state," he said.

Martin Tett, transport spokesman of the Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, said: "It is crucial that councils are given these powers without lengthy national approval mechanisms, so they can ensure critical roadworks are carried out as quickly as possible.

"The sooner councils are allowed to get on top of this problem the better."

RAC roads policy spokesman Nicholas Lyes said: "It is incredibly frustrating for motorists when they are held up by roadworks particularly when they pass through and see very little actual work taking place, so any measures aimed at improving efficiency are welcome."

But he added that it was "critical that there is not a trade-off between the speed and the quality of works".

Transport for London's managing director of surface transport Leon Daniels said: "We're delighted about these plans to consult on whether or not to extend the lane rental scheme nationally.

"It has been a resounding success in the capital, with the amount of severe disruption caused by badly-managed or poorly-timed roadworks more than halved. This has helped improve journey times for bus passengers, drivers and cyclists, while also helping to tackle emissions."