New powers to help councils cut the disruption caused by road works were announced today (26 January 2012) by Transport Minister Norman Baker.
Under ‘lane rental’ schemes councils will be able to charge utility companies up to £2,500 a day to dig up the busiest roads during peak times when road works cause the most disruption. This will incentivise utility firms to carry out their works more quickly and at times when roads are quieter. Companies would be able to avoid the charges by carrying out works during off-peak periods or, if appropriate, at night.
Following consultation, the Department for Transport has today published guidance for local authorities wanting to put lane rental schemes in place. In order to gather evidence on the effectiveness of lane rental, the department has proposed that schemes should initially be used in up to 3 pioneer authorities - one metropolitan area and 2 others - and is inviting applications from interested local authorities. The successful pioneer areas will need to have exhausted other options, including using a permit scheme. They will also be required to evaluate their lane rental schemes annually and this evidence will be used to decide how further lane rental schemes should be implemented.
Norman Baker said:
It is incredibly frustrating to find vital roads being dug up in the middle of the rush hour or, even worse, traffic lanes closed when no one is even carrying out any work.
This disruption is not only inconvenient but very expensive, with roadworks-related congestion costing the economy an estimated £4 billion a year, which is why we are taking firm action.
While permit schemes are working well to reduce disruption from roadworks in areas where they have been sanctioned we think it sensible to try out a further option. We believe lane rental schemes provide a further incentive to utility companies and local authorities to carry out their works at times when they will cause the minimum disruption and to complete them as quickly as possible.
The guidance which accompanies the new powers makes it clear that lane rental charges must be avoidable and proportionate to the costs of congestion. Councils are also being encouraged to apply the same principles to their own works and come forward with lane rental schemes which fit the needs of their local area.
Any revenue raised from the implementation of lane rental charges will have to be used by councils to fund measures which could help to reduce future road works disruption. This could include infrastructure work, research or measures to improve the management of works.
Notes to editors
The consultation ‘Lane rental schemes in England’ closed on 31 October, and the guidance ‘Lane rental schemes: guidance to English local highway authorities’ can be loacated in the publications section.
Lane rental regulations will be laid before Parliament shortly.
Any authority wishing to implement lane rental would need to apply to the department for approval to do so. Local councils will need to propose charge levels that are appropriate to their individual circumstances. In particular, they will need to show that their charges are proportionate to the costs imposed by works on the roads in question.This is subject to a maximum charge of £2,500 per day.
The primary legislation (section 74A of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991) provides the necessary powers for local highway authorities to put in place lane rental schemes, subject (in England) to the approval of the Secretary of State for Transport, and allows regulations to make further provision about such schemes.
Lane rental pilot schemes were operated in Camden and Middlesbrough between 2002 and 2004, but no further schemes have since been implemented. As a result of subsequent changes to various aspects of street works legislation, the existing lane rental regulations are now out of date and, in effect, inoperable.
Permit schemes give local authorities greater powers to co-ordinate works on their roads. Permit schemes are currently being operated by Transport for London and most of the London boroughs, Kent County Council and Northamptonshire County Council. Approval has recently been granted for a new scheme in St Helens.
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