Drivers set to be spared disruption under permit scheme to regulate companies digging up Northumberland's roads
Drivers are set to be spared disruption under a new permit scheme which will force utility companies to apply for permission before digging up roads in Northumberland.
Currently, Northumberland County Council runs a notification scheme, which sees the gas, electricity and water companies as well as the authority’s own highways teams provide notice about street works, which the relevant team then tries to coordinate.
The latest proposal means that they will now have to apply for a permit and the council can also apply more conditions about how those carrying out the work operate.
This is in line with a push from the Department for Transport, which wants all local authorities to move to permit schemes, as part of a wider move to create a new system to provide more information to the public about roadworks.
A report to a meeting of the council’s communities and place committee explained that the Northumberland scheme has five specific objectives – coordination in order to minimise disruption; improving compliance with the relevant codes of practice and conditions; ensuring accurate information is available to the public; ensuring all works promoters are treated fairly; and encouraging collaboration.
Coun John Beynon said: “It’s a fantastic idea. The number of times – and it will be the same elsewhere – that we have the water board dig up the centre of Morpeth and cause disruption and then the gas board come in and do it the following week.”
Councillors heard that the changes will mean an additional 3.5 full-time-equivalent jobs at the council to manage the process, which will be funded by the fees to be charged for the permits. There is currently no cost to the utility companies under the notification scheme.
The council’s network manager Lynne Ryan told the meeting: “It will give us a greater level of control and the fact that they have to pay a fee, I think the utility companies will think a lot more about what they are doing.”
The scheme is designed to be cost-neutral and in line with the Government regulations, the scheme can’t make profit, so the fees structure will be reviewed every year for the first three years and then every three years after that.
Of the 12 councils in the North East, only North Tyneside already runs a permit scheme, so Northumberland worked with the other 10 authorities to develop its proposals, with guidance from North Tyneside.
A statutory consultation was launched in July and runs until later this month, but if approved by the cabinet in November, the scheme will come into force in February 2020.
Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for local services, said: “This really gives us some assistance in dealing with this issue and I’m very grateful to our officers who have spent time finding a way of making this work.”