Councils and highways authorities should be required to pay costs in proportion to the disruption caused to road-users by their actions, said Conservative peer Lord Geddes. This would be done within the framework of fines and lane rentals, presently being trialled in Camden and Middlesbrough.
He said more than 50% of holes in the road were caused by local and highway authorities. 'Should they not pay their whack, to put it in the vulgar', he asked.
He added: 'Local authorities and highways authorities should certainly exercise the same restraint and co-ordination as that required of public utilities to minimise the disruption of roadworks. But of course, if we start to fine local authorities and highways authorities, the money comes into one pocket and out of the other, so to speak. I am not sure that that is a worthwhile activity'.
However, a statutory code of practice was introduced on maintenance management last July, and the government was conscious of the need for authorities to exercise restraint.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee, a member of the Greater London Authority, said local authorities would be among the first to welcome any scheme that reduced disruption caused to the travelling public. She asked if there were plans to extend the trial schemes - a move which would be welcomed by business.
Lord McIntosh said it would be desirable to have pilots beyond Middlesbrough and Camden. Seven local authorities expressed interest in taking part in the pilot but, for various reasons, five were ineligible. 'But I am sure that the offer is still open', he added.
He said the problem was that the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 was not sufficiently specific. It did not provide incentives for co-ordination; it did not provide incentives for people to talk to each other when they planned to dig up roads - it did not even provide disincentives for their not knowing where their cables, pipes and so on lay beneath the roads.
'So we have had to introduce additional regulations to try to make it work', said Lord McIntosh.
'In addition to trying to encourage co-ordination, we plan penalties for lack of co-ordination, and that is what over-running charges and lane rental are...that is the only way it will be made to work'.
Conservative Lord Pearson asked who was the 'Martian' who took the decision a week ago to cordon off 300 acres of London because of a burst water main in front of the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road and insisted no work would be done on it over the weekend. He said the whole of London was fouled up as a result, and he asked whether the government had any idea of the cost to the national economy.
Lord McIntosh said he was at a difficulty because he knew no Martians, but it was a valid complaint. He said he would make inquiries to see whether it was the responsibility of government
Hansard 19 June 2002: Column 734-736