The trade body that represents the utilities industry over street works has accused councils of 'straying' from the original intentions of the Government's Lane Rental scheme.
Lane rental schemes allow highway authorities to charge utility firms up to £2,500 per day for carrying out street works on busy roads at peak times.
Writing on the organisation’s website, Clive Bairsto, chief executive of Street Works UK, said that although the Department for Transport (DfT) had issued guidance, ‘some local schemes have, frankly, strayed from what one would imagine –and each of us as tax-payers might hope –as being the Government’s original purpose for Lane Rental; an intent to remove and reduce traffic congestion’.
Mr Bairsto said: ‘Infrastructure projects to help future-proof the UK economy, such as super-fast broadband and upgrades to the electricity networks to allow for increased electric car usage, will all require street works. That is because these pipes and wires mostly run quietly under our nation’s roads in a complex web of hidden connectivity.’
He added: ‘As a result, poorly thought out Lane Rental schemes will add costs, skew well-thought-through plans, and obstruct in such a way that they could be a significant drag on upgrading Britain’s towns and cities, slowing down progress and adding additional unnecessary cost burdens.’
Mr Bairsto said that some authorities have decided to apply Lane Rental charges to public footpaths, pointing out that the DfT’s guidance explicitly excludes works on footpaths from Lane Rental charges, except where a footpath closure requires the provision of a safe route for pedestrians, which impacts a carriageway directly.
He said: ‘We believe that potential scope creep of Lane Rental schemes around footpaths will lead to escalating costs for utilities and ultimately impact customers without reducing congestion one iota.’
In February Transport for London, which ran one of two lane rental pilot schemes, said it would amend its charges from May, expanding the scheme and including footways for the first time.
Another area where Mr Bairsto said schemes should follow DfT guidance is in covering no more than 5% of an authority’s road network, focused on the most traffic sensitive roads and backed up by clear data.
He pointed to last year’s Vision for Street and Road Works, which he said would allow utilities and local authorities to ‘seamlessly work together to deliver public benefits'.
He added it would 'realise the UK’s full potential by drawing on innovative practice and embracing greater digitalisation' instead of being 'hamstrung by schemes that add obfuscation with no benefit to decongestion’.