Utility companies could be forced to guaranteed the quality of road repairs for up to five years, following a Government consultation.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has today (March 6) launched the consultation on increasing the guarantee on utility firms’ roadworks, so that if a pothole forms as a result within five years, the company must return to bring the road surface back to normal.
The 'specification for the reinstatement of openings in highways consultation' proposes increasing the minimum guarantee from the current two years to up to five years, and will also introduce new asphalt standards, to keep roads pothole-free for longer.
Grayling said: “Potholes are the biggest enemy for road users and this Government is looking at all options to keep our roads in the best condition.
“Road surfaces can be made worse by utility companies, so imposing higher standards on repairs will help keep roads pothole-free for longer.”
The proposals also allow for new innovative surfacing to be used, such as asphalt with a high bitumen content that is easier to compact to the required density. This makes it less prone to potholing, said the Department for Transport (DfT).
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “This on the face of it is a very sensible and welcome idea. Utility company roadworks should not lead to an overall worsening of road surface quality.
“While lane rental is also a very positive step to ensuring utility company works don’t overrun, the quality of their work shouldn’t suffer so this guarantee should also prevent this happening.
“The next logical step that could make a far greater difference to the standard of the country’s local road network is to ensure all road contractors working for local authorities have to provide the same guarantee.
“The quality of road maintenance, whether that’s repairs or resurfacing, needs to come under closer scrutiny to guard against substandard workmanship. This way every pound spent on our roads would last longer and motorists would have far better surfaces to drive on.”
Clive Bairsto, chief executive of trade body Street Works UK, said: “Utilities and their contractor partners are committed to undertaking work to the highest standards, with the latest published figures showing that the performance of utilities is significantly higher than local authorities in relation to the quality of reinstatements.
“However, we do not believe that proposals to increase guarantee periods are necessary or will be effective.
“The Government should not take forward proposals unless they are supported by a strong evidence base. Utilities and their contractor partners play a vital role in delivering and maintaining vital infrastructure which powers the economy, and it is crucial that any new regulations are proportionate.
“We welcome the opportunity this consultation provides to consider how the street works policy framework can encourage and enable greater innovation. This will allow utilities and their contractor partners to undertake work to an even higher standard more quickly, reducing disruption for motorists.”
The consultation, which will last eight weeks, follows a number of other interventions by the Government to help improve road surfaces.
Last month, DfT announced real-world tests of new road surfaces and technologies in eight areas to see which emerging innovations provide long-term solutions to improve journeys.
The £22.9 million Live Labs projects will be delivered by councils - including Kent, Staffordshire, Reading, Suffolk and Solihull and Birmingham – and if successful, could be adopted by other authorities.
These schemes include expanding the test in Cumbria of plastic roads, using kinetic energy off Buckinghamshire roads to power lighting and using geothermal energy to keep car parks and in Central Bedfordshire bus stations from freezing over.
In the Budget in November, the Chancellor also announced an additional £420 million for road maintenance for 2018 to 2019 financial year. This brings the total funding for pothole repair and roads maintenance up to £6.6 billion from 2015 to 2020.
Furthermore, DfT announced councils across England could introduce Lane Rental schemes – where utility companies are charged up to £2,500 a day to dig up busy roads – to reduce the duration of roadworks and speed up traffic.
The Government is also investing up to £10 million in Street Manager. The data opened up by this new digital service should enable motorists to plan their journeys better, so they can avoid works and get to their destinations more easily.