EXCLUSIVE: Utility companies fined £888,000 for shoddy Gloucestershire roadworks
By Laura Enfield | 11th September 2023
Almost £888,000 of roadworks fines were handed to utility companies in Gloucestershire in 2022/23.
And the council said it wants to crack down even harder on those who don't carry out work with due care.
It is a growing problem - with more of our roads being dug up than ever and up to 80% of "disruptive roadworks" in the county caused by utility companies and other contractors each year.
Hundreds of businesses across the county, such as logistics firms, building suppliers, taxi drivers and delivery services, rely on the roads network every day.
Overrunning work can mean delays and loss of money, impacting the county's economy.
Shoddy repairs can cause potholes, meaning taxpayers' money is spent on fixing problems caused by private companies.
The council's live roadworks map shows a swarm of planned works across the area for the next 12 months and many are code red which means delays are likely.
There are at least 22 of this category taking place in Gloucester city centre over the next two weeks alone.
Council figures show the number of works carried out by utility companies has increased 22% in three years, increasing from 14,076 in 2020/21 to 17,189 in 2022/23.
Companies require a licence from the council to work on the highway but legislation and national guidelines make it extremely difficult for the council to refuse permission. However, it does have powers to insist they are carried out at more convenient times, such as during school holidays when traffic flows are less.
This does not apply in an emergency such as a burst water main when it is almost impossible for the council to influence works by a utility company.
The council said it aims to coordinate roadworks to minimise disruption but issues such as preventing an interruption of supply, delayed payments by customers for new services and availability of crews can all affect when work is done.
All this extra digging up of our roads means more work for officers with 7,620 inspections carried out in 2020/21 and 9,461 in 2022/23.
The council has around six inspectors and said they have been redeployed to areas where problems are occurring and it has stepped up its targeted inspections to monitor the lowest performing utility companies even more closely.
Several Telecom companies were issued improvement plans earlier this year and in the last year it issued 310 charges against utilities for overrunning works.
Cllr Dom Morris (Con,Cotswold), cabinet member for highways and flooding, said: "We have additional staff out inspecting sites and issuing fines for inadequate works.
"All income from the fines goes straight back into the Highways budget to support highway maintenance across the county."
Roadworks that are causing concern can be reported to the council online and Cllr Morris said an 'imminent' overhaul of the website is coming to make it even easier for people to use.
Inspectors also check how well the highway has been repaired. Excavation means the life expectancy of the road may already be reduced and all utility works carry a two year guarantee. If agreed defects occur in this period the utility company will have to fix them at its own expense.
If companies do not play by the rules, the council has the power to hand out Fixed Penalty Notices of up to £500 for roadworks and fines of up to £10,000 per day for over-running works.
The total value of FPN's collected for 2022-2023 was £296,540 and the total of S74 charges collected for over-running works in 2022-23 was £591,325- a total of £887,865.
The council can also prosecute companies for safety failings at road works sites, but this is a last resort and no utility firm has been taken to court under the current administration.
In June, the ruling conservatives rebuffed Lib Dims efforts to declare a "roads emergency" in the county.
Cllr Morris said at the time that the roads team was already being ramped up through the Highways Transformation Programme and more repairs carried out.
However, the council did resolve to urgently review its policy on how repairs and work by utilities companies were inspected.
It also agreed to take a more proactive approach to enforcement and fines when utility companies and those installing cables for 5G/High Speed Broadband don't meet the standards expected of them.
The next quarterly update to members on the work and progress of the Highways Transformation Programme is due in late October.
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