Mr Whiting (Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste), Mr Payne (Deputy Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste), Mr Loosemore (Head of Highways Asset Management) and Mrs Alison Hews (Streetworks Manager - East) were present for this item.
1. At the invitation of Mr Whybrow who, jointly with Mr Bird, had asked for this item to be placed onto the Scrutiny Committee agenda, the Officers introduced their report.
2. Andrew Loosemore briefly explained the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (NRSWA) under which Utilities Companies had to install and maintain apparatus in the highway. Under the Traffic Management Act 2004 (TMA) Highway Authorities had a duty to co-ordinate such activity.
3. KCC operated a Permit Scheme across the whole road network alongside a Kent Lane Rental Scheme (KLRS) operating on 5% of the most traffic sensitive streets of the primary network. The Lane Rental Scheme accrued around £1million per year and regulations meant that the scheme funds could be used to offset reasonable costs and the surplus went into an innovation fund which funded projects that fulfilled the key criteria.
4. The duty on Highway Authorities was to coordinate works and to mitigate traffic disruption, not to prevent disruption.
5. Alison Hews explained the temporary road closure process to Members, this was managed by the Street Works Team. The agenda pack contained the paperwork required to close roads.
6. Mr Whybrow thanked the officers for their report and for their verbal explanation, it was considered that there was a lack of public understanding around who was responsible for road closure and he asked whether signage could be improved? Andrew explained that it was mandatory to have a signboard on site which should include a reference number, name and contact details of the responsible company. KCC could issue a default notice if the sign was not present.
7. In response to a question over coordination between utilities companies Alison explained that the council would always push for collaboration if it was aware of multiple works on the street, these were often emergency works which were difficult to coordinate. A discount was offered to utilities companies if they could work collaboratively, it was beneficial to companies to share costs.
8. In response to a question over the extent to which KCC could specify remedial action and whether this was patching or full coverage. Andrew explained that there was a national consultation on the conditions imposed by the Highways Authority, this included a proposal to increase the work guarantee from two years to five years, this was a substantial document which set out the qualities and standards for utilities companies.
9. Andrew Loosemore set out the inspection regime to Members, this did not prevent the team from making unscheduled inspections.
10. Referring to the Lane Rental Scheme, this was run under Transport for London and Kent was the only other authority who ran the scheme. The rules around the Lane Rental Scheme were set out in legislation and the Lane Rental Board decided where surplus funds were spent.
11. In relation to coordination of highways works KCC had a quarterly Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee (HAUC) meeting. Prior to this companies had to submit a return of all planned main schemes. At that meeting representatives looked for opportunities for collaborative working.
12. Andrew Loosemore offered to discuss with Members, outside of the meeting, any issues or ideas relating to signage or street works.
13. Andrew Loosemore explained that KCC decided which roads were designated as traffic sensitive and this was affected by bus routes, sorting routes and a raft of criteria. Andrew confirmed that utilities companies were only responsible for reinstating the area that they disturbed.
14. A Member requested that officers give thought to how early Members got notified about controversial closure notices affecting their wards and divisions.
15. A Member asked that road works around Christmas be avoided due to the effect this had on businesses. Members also asked that there be a dedicated direct contact number for KCC to report defects.
16. In response to a question Andrew Loosemore explained that there was no opion to use the Lane Rental Scheme surplus for wider reinstatement, however Members could put forward suggestions on innovation ideas to Highways District Managers.
17. In response to a question about utilities companies and contractors adhering to the law KCC did its best to ensure compliance with the rules and served noticed where utilities companies did not meet all the requirements.
18. Members recognised that there was little spare capacity on Kent’s road network, roadworks had a big impact and it was recommended that KCC look at good practice around the UK and abroad.
19. A Member commented that road closures or lane closures could be a good opportunity for litter or verge cleaning.
20. Members offered thanks to the team for their hard work and useful discussion at the Scrutiny Committee meeting.
21. The Cabinet Member together with the Committee Chairman thanked the Committee for requesting the item and for the good discussion, he offered his thanks to the team who worked hard to minimise the disruption and issues.
RESOLVED that Mr Whiting, Mr Payne, Mr Loosemore and Mrs Hews be thanked for attending the meeting and for answering questions. The Scrutiny Committee note the contents of the report and the additional information in Appendices 1 and 2.