Strategic Consultation on Works on Scottish Roads Analysis of Consultation Responses


3.1 This chapter reports on the time taken to complete road works. It outlines three different proposals, each designed to minimise the duration of road works and summarises views expressed in relation to each.


3.2 NRSWA allows utility companies free access to roads to place or maintain/repair pipes and cables. The Act stipulates that these works must be completed with such dispatch as is reasonably practical. Where this is not the case, a fine of up to £5,000 may be levied on summary conviction. Roads authorities may also issue a formal notice for works to be completed under a specified timescale, however, this is rare with only 111 notices having been issued across 67,000 utility company excavations in the specific period mentioned in the consultation document.

3.3 Three possible initiatives which may ensure that road works are completed within reasonable periods were outlined in the consultation, and views were sought.

3.4 Firstly, charging where occupation of the road by the utility company exceeds what is deemed reasonable was proposed. In England, where regulations are enacted, this can result in charges of between £250 and £10,000 per day depending on how long the occupation has been, and how traffic sensitive the road is.

3.5 Secondly, fees for a permit to undertake works and also for a breach of permit conditions, or working without a permit i.e. a 'permit scheme' was set out. Although not currently in place in Scotland, views were welcomed on its introduction.

3.6 Thirdly, proposals for 'lane rental schemes' which have been trialled in England were raised. The schemes require utility companies to pay a charge for the duration of their works, with charges variable by the time of the works, with lower rates for off-peak or night time working, and less critical parts of the road networks. Again, views were sought.


Charge for Occupation Where Work is Unreasonably Prolonged

Q.6. Scottish Ministers would welcome views on the introduction of a charge for occupation where work is unreasonably prolonged.

Question 6

* Of the five who did not respond to this question, four were from group three and one was from group one.

Key themes

1. Most viewed that charging is not necessary and that most delays are genuine.

2. It was perceived that it would be difficult for roads authorities to question or judge the legitimacy of duration of works.

3. Introduction of charging would become an administrative burden for roads authorities and utility companies.

3.7 Eight respondents supported this proposal (all from group one), and it was noted that, in England and Wales, this has focused the utilities in reducing works durations and is an opportunity to reduce the time that roads are occupied and road users are disrupted. Much of the support that was offered, however, was caveated and comments included that:

  • A sliding scale of charges related to the road hierarchy and traffic sensitivity would be required.
  • Charges should only be introduced if works have been extended without agreement or discussion with the road authority.
  • Clear criteria would be required for when this could be imposed and when exceptions could be granted.

3.8 Respondents would only support charging if such a scheme could be developed with a 'light touch' administratively or if costs of running the scheme would be met by the charge, it seems.

3.9 Respondents who expressed mixed feelings with regards to the proposal all came from group one. While they saw merit in the approach, the following misgivings were expressed:

  • It is difficult for roads authorities to question situations where programmed utility company works are unreasonably prolonged. There may be operational issues which prohibit works being completed and where the roads authorities staff are not qualified to determine the legitimacy of the duration of the works.
  • Delays are usually genuine, e.g. adverse weather, unforeseen circumstances or limited flexibility of smaller workforces (in rural areas). If a charge is to be levied, then there needs to be adequate provision to make allowance for genuine delays to be excluded from charges.

3.10 Over half of respondents (28) opposed the introduction of an occupation charge, the main reasons being that:

  • Unreasonable occupation is a limited problem, so there is no justification or value in a charge.
  • There is no evidence to support the need for a charge - NJUG and others in group two recommended that further analysis be undertaken and that RAUC(S) works with the Scottish Road Works Commissioner to identify further ways of reducing the duration of works that do not involve regulation.
  • In Scotland, roads authorities and utility companies currently work well to co-ordinate their work to ensure they are not unreasonably prolonged. This provision could undermine these relationships.
  • Roads authorities do not have the specific technical expertise to question utility companies on the duration of their works.
  • Utility companies are already incentivised either though their regulatory settlements or customer demand/competition to work efficiently:

    "Vodafone and all other undertakers do not want to be on roads longer than necessary to maintain apparatus or to serve new customers. On the contrary, the more time spent on the road costs our business. We work with roads authorities where necessary to optimise notice periods to reduce duration along with providing quality reinstatements. On occasion, we have to work outside normal working hours, to fit in with traffic management requirements, avoid events, other conflicts and other aspects of environment issues which shows a willingness to adapt for the good of the community." (Vodafone UK)

3.11 Those in group two were most likely to stress that no consideration had been made in the proposals to the administrative burden that would be placed on the roads authorities or utility companies if the legislation were to be introduced:

"This is could be difficult as the administration of such a scheme could outweigh the benefits." (Scottish Borders Council)

3.12 The main suggestion made in place of a charge was the possible extension of the provisions relating to Section 125 notices to allow issuing of a penalty against a utility company with a consistently poor performance in completing works and to encourage companies to ensure any sub-contractors operate timeously and efficiently. This could be achieved within existing legislation with minimal additional administrative costs, it was suggested.

Comparison of group responses

3.13 Of the 28 respondents who opposed the introduction of a charge, 13 were from group two, 13 were from group one, one was from group four and one was from group three. All of group two respondents opposed the introduction of a charge for occupation where work is unreasonably prolonged. Although 13 group one respondents opposed this proposal, eight supported the proposal and seven had mixed feelings.

Permit Schemes

Q.7. Scottish Ministers would welcome views on the introduction of permit schemes.

Question 7

* Of the five who did not respond to this question, four were from group three and one was from group one.

Key themes

1. The introduction of permit schemes was seen as unnecessary since respondents considered that the current arrangements for coordinating works using the Scottish Road Works Register, along with the existing provisions available to roads authorities, work well

2. Permit schemes would increase administrative costs and bureaucracy, it was perceived.

3. Costs would be passed on to consumers.

3.14 The responses to this question where overwhelmingly not supportive of the introduction of permit schemes. Forty respondents, from across the groups, rejected this proposal. The main reasons for opposing the proposal were:

  • The current method for co-ordinating works, and the existing suite of penalties and provisions, when properly used, operates well and there is no benefit in replacing a system that works well:

    "NJUG believes that the existing NRSWA 1991 noticing provisions in Scotland coupled with the cohesive and constructive approach to undertaking road works co-ordinated through RAUC (Scotland) provide sufficient powers and co-operation to manage both roads authority and utility works." (NJUG)
  • Considerable additional administrative costs to roads authorities and utility companies may result. This was mentioned in almost all of the responses opposing the introduction of permit schemes, across the groups.
  • There is limited/no evidence that permit schemes work; in particular, a lack of evidence to show that permit schemes in England have contributed significantly to a reduction in disruption caused by highway works:

    "Is it hard to see the logic of setting up a small industry of administrators to send and receive, view and refuse or grant Permits Applications, with no real evidence this adds value and supports economic growth." (Vodafone UK)
  • Costs would be passed on to consumers (a theme recurrent in responses provided by utility companies).

3.15 Only five respondents supported the introduction of permit schemes (four from group one, and one from group three), but three of these noted that it could be a financial burden on smaller authorities, and that any support would be dependent on the introduction of a manageable system to reduce administration and financial costs. Other reasons for supporting the introduction of permit schemes were; to allow local authorities to have better control over work carried out on the road network, and to reduce disruption by road works.

3.16 Lastly, Scottish Water stressed their concern that a permit system might impact on its legal rights and obligations to perform its statutory duties, which could affect the operation of the public water supply and sewerage networks, cause inconvenience to the public and have serious consequences for public health.

Comparison of group responses

3.17 There was almost unanimous feeling against the introduction of permit schemes between groups. Of the five in support of permit schemes, four were from roads authorities.

Lane Rental Schemes

Q.8. Scottish Ministers would welcome views on the introduction of lane rental schemes.

Question 8

* Of the five who did not respond to this question, four were from group three and one was from group one.

Key themes

1. The majority of respondents viewed lane rental schemes as unnecessary and lacking in evidence to support them.

2. Among a minority, there was some strong support for lane rental schemes, but other support was more muted, e.g. on manageable administrative systems.

3. Further research and evidence is required on lane rental schemes to demonstrate that there is a clear cost/benefit, it was suggested.

3.18 Most of those in support of the introduction of lane rental schemes stressed that these would be particularly suitable if targeted on the most heavily trafficked routes and the trunk road network. Only one response, strongly in favour of lane rental schemes, stressed that these should not be confined to traffic sensitive areas under the strict definition of the Act but should apply at least to all strategic roads.

3.19 The main reasons for supporting the introduction of lane rental schemes included:

  • It would encourage and incentivise shorter works durations and allow local authorities to raise revenues.
  • It would be particularly useful for major city centres, traffic critical routes and the trunk road network (although, as above, one participant argued that it should not be confined to traffic sensitive areas).
  • It would lead to a decrease in serious and severe disruption associated with road works:

"… the correct use of such a scheme would focus utilities work durations to provide the roads authority with more accurate timescales for carrying out work. This would be essential for the proper co-ordination of road works in a major city, where traffic congestion is a great concern." (City of Edinburgh Council)

3.20 Specific caveats or reservations that were raised included:

  • The need for a manageable system to reduce administrative and financial costs.
  • For schemes to be accompanied by an increase in road works inspections, particularly on traffic sensitive roads (to ensure works are not rushed to minimise costs).
  • Revenue needs to be reinvested into the road network for the benefit of road users.

3.21 Many of the reasons presented for opposing the lane rental scheme were similar to those given for opposing permit schemes. In particular:

  • The SRWR works well and current legislation is adequate.
  • It would be an administrative burden and there would be considerable additional administrative costs on the road works community as a whole.
  • It would increase works durations along with the environmental concerns associated with out of hours working.
  • It would lead to increased consumer costs.
  • Could impact negatively on health and safety in respect of out of hours working.
  • Could lead to a proliferation of urgent utility company works being proposed, as a way of avoiding the proposed charge, which in turn would create further difficulties in terms of the co-ordination of works.
  • There is limited/no evidence to support lane rental schemes and further research and evidence is required to demonstrate that there is a clear cost/benefit:

"NJUG believes that Scottish Ministers should only consider the introduction of lane rental in Scotland after a full cost-benefit analysis is undertaken on the schemes that are being operated in London (TfL) and Kent, with whom NJUG and utility members are working closely." (NJUG)

3.22 Many of the utility companies suggested that, should road works authorities and utilities use the range of existing legislation and regulation and voluntary measures in a more effective and consistent way, this would produce better results than lane rental:

"SGN's view is that greater consistency and effectiveness in implementing the existing legislative, regulatory and voluntary measures would deliver the same objectives at much less cost to utilities, roads authorities and their customers." (SGN)

3.23 Lastly, the NJUG response and several of the other group two responses included suggestions on what should occur should a lane rental system be introduced. These include, ensuring such a scheme would need to be fair and equitable, targeted and operated on an incentivised and avoidable basis, and be about avoiding disruption, rather than generating revenue.

Comparison of group responses

3.24 Those in support were primarily from roads authorities but also included responses from groups three and four. Overall, however, the support was limited.

Summary of Time Taken To Complete Works

3.25 The majority of respondents opposed the introduction of a charge for occupation where work is unreasonably prolonged, with most respondents considering this unnecessary or difficult for a roads authority to judge without the necessary technical expertise. The vast majority of respondents also opposed the introduction of permit schemes, considering this to be unnecessary and to potentially increase administrative costs and bureaucracy. There was more support for lane rental schemes, but the majority of respondents also opposed these. Most of the support for lane rental schemes was from roads authority respondents.