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DfT launches 'Heineken' plan

Date: 01 December 2006   |   Author: Guy Bird

Remember the Heineken advert where multiple utility companies use the same road hole at the same time to reduce disruption and congestion?

The dream could be one step closer to reality for key stretches of road. Last week the Department of Transport launched a new proposal that could empower local authorities to issue permits to better coordinate who can dig where, for how long, and in some instances what time of day the work should start.

The proposed system would allow the local highway authority to stipulate that a 'permit to dig' is bought for particularly important stretches of road, in terms of both traffic on it and utility infrastructure under it.

The permit scheme will act as a bolt-on to the recent 'notice' system, which will soon oblige utility firms to give three months' notice to the current one-month requirement.

With a permit scheme in place, the local authority could then coordinate the timing of multiple applicants wanting to dig the same stretch of road so that disruption is minimised and ultimately - the holy grail of roadworks - many users could use the same hole.

The proposed maximum fee for a permit will be £240 ('notices' incur no charge) and will reflect the scale of the works, the predicted disruption as well as covering the cost to the local authority of administering the coordination.

The 12-week consultation period on the idea started on November 28 and will end on February 27. It should become law after any revisions by late 2007.

Transport Minister Gillian Merron said: "I know how frustrating it is for all road users, including pedestrians, when the same stretch of road or pavement is dug up again and again by separate utility companies, causing delays, inconvenience and congestion. This consultation will give local highway authorities the power to take a more sensible and co-ordinated approach to necessary street works."

Both the 'notice' and 'permit' scheme regulations will come under the long-delayed 2004 Traffic Management Act 2004, but only apply to local highway authorities working in England.

The Welsh Assembly Government is planning a similar consultation exercise in the near future. The 'Keep traffic moving' consultation document can be viewed at