North Yorkshire County Council — which is experiencing a huge cut in road maintenance funding — has signalled its determination to crack down on utility companies which fail to properly restore roads after digging them up.
A meeting of the council’s executive heard poor reinstatement of roads by sewage, water, electricity, gas and communications firms was responsible for “well over half” of potholes across the country’s largest road network.
The meeting heard to get utility firms to “sharpen their pencils” and improve their performance, the council was considering introducing road metering. This would see firms charged according to the amount of time they spent on site, meaning putting right poor workmanship would prove more costly to the firms.
Earlier this year the Department of Transport (DfT) announced the authority would receive £37 million to maintain roads in 2021/22, £12.6 million less than the previous year. Whitehall bosses estimated the £16.5 million earmarked for potholes in the county could repair 329,000 cavities.
The funding announcement came two years after the DfT launched a consultation to help councils tackle the potholes by making utility companies ensure the safety of roads for up to five years. However, it has emerged the proposal has been postponed due to fears of creating “unintended consequences” for utility firms.
Street Works UK, a trade association representing utility companies, has said the five-year rule would be unnecessary and that the sector’s roadworks performance is much better than local authorities. The debate has also seen the RAC Foundation describe potholes as “the bane of road users’ lives” and call for utility firms to be held responsible for the quality of their road repairs.
Nevertheless, Councillor Stanley Lumley, chairman of the authority’s transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee, told the executive there were clear variances in the condition of roads across North Yorkshire and utility firms needed to be held to account.
Coun Lumley said: “It’s a great shame that we invest a lot of money in maintaining these roads and then a utility company can come along and do a poor reinstatement and that results in a bad reflection on the county.”
Councillor Don Mackenzie, the authority’s executive member for highways, said he believed well over half the county’s potholes were caused by poor remedial works following excavations, but stressed only three per cent of the county’s principle roads were in need of repair.
He said: “Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do to stop the utility companies breaking into our highways. They have a statutory right to access their equipment, replace or repair it. It is something that we must monitor very closely and is something that I personally am very concerned about. We shall ensure that we continue to improve the quality of those reinstatements.”
Coun Mackenzie said the council had introduced a roadworks permits scheme a few years ago which had generated funding to employ people to monitor utility firms’ work and led to financial penalties being imposed upon utility companies for poor workmanship.