The council cannot stop a statutory undertaker digging up the road. They have a legal right under the New Roads and Street Works Act, to maintain their existing pipes, cables etc, or to install new ones.
Before January 2010, a statutory undertaker had to tell the council about the work. Most of the works were approved in 3 days.
In January 2010, the council became one of the first local authorities to introduce a permit scheme for all works on the highway. This requires anyone wishing to carry out work on the highway to have the methodology and timing of their work approved and co-ordinated.
The statutory undertaker has to tell the council about the work. For minor works it has to send the council a daily list of where it's working. For other works it has to give notice. The bigger the work the longer the notice, from 2 hours for emergency works to 28 days for planned works.
Permits are required for most work in the road or pavement that takes place on any publicly maintainable highways. Permissible works include such things as:
The scheme allows the council to require work to be carried out at specific times and to apply conditions as to how this work is to be carried out. Because the scheme covers its costs the council now has more oversight which is funded by those causing the potential disruption rather than the taxpayer.
Economists have shown a significant benefit to the London economy through improved works co-ordination resulting from the scheme. The City of Westminster implemented the scheme with a number of London Boroughs and TfL.
Any ‘works promoters’ that wishes to carry out any of the activities listed above will be required to obtain a Permit from the appropriate authority.
‘Works promoters’ tend to be either utility companies or contractors acting on behalf of either a utility company or a local authority. In addition to receiving applications for permits from - for example - Thames Water, we will also be receiving and assessing permit applications made on behalf of Westminster City Council by their service providers.
While it might seem odd to be issuing permit’s for our own works, it is a legal requirement that parity exists across all permit applications and the processes surrounding them, regardless of who is making the application.
The cost of a permit depends on the scale of the works and the street where they take place. The cost which ranges from £40 to £345 covers the administrative cost of operating the scheme.
If works that require a permit take place without one, the works promoter may be issued with a fixed penalty notice of up to £500, and ordered to apply and pay for the permit that they should have had in the first place.
If a works promoter breaches the conditions of a permit, they may be issued with a fixed penalty notice of up to £120.
Although it might seem like a good idea for the council to inform residents , The volume of work on street makes this impractical. Over 15,000 jobs are carried out each year by statutory undertakers alone. The vast majority of which are less than 3 days in duration.
Under the permit scheme, the most disruptive and long term work require notification to immediately affected residents and business. Such works require a permit application 3 months to allow time for effective co-ordination and notification.
When we resurface a road we serve a special legal notice on all the statutory undertakers who work in Westminster. This prevents them from digging up the road for the next 3 years after we've finished the works.
Unfortunately there are exceptions for emergencies and for new services to customers. If we find works are taking place in a road where we have served a notice,that does not meet the criteria for exception, the council reserves the right to instigate legal proceedings.
In general statutory undertakers and their contractors don't want to leave holes open any longer than they have to. It costs money to keep barriers and lights around holes, and they may be legally liable for any accidents.
There are some instances where holes have to be left open when there is no work going on. For instance, where gas has seeped into the ground, or into cable ducts. In these cases, it has to be allowed to escape into the open air over a period of time.
If a statutory undertaker goes beyond their planned end date that has been agreed with the council they can be charged a daily amount currently varying from £100 to £2500 depending on the road and type of works.
People have been digging holes in the road to lay pipes or cables for over 100 years. Records of what was done in the early days are poor or non-existent.
Although there are very sophisticated systems available to locate underground services, none of these is 100% accurate. Nobody can be absolutely certain of what's there until they start digging.
Cellars and vaults are another big problem, because many of them extend under the pavement and the road, and accurate information on them is not always available.
All these things can combine to make work take longer than planned.
The council has a duty to co-ordinate the work of statutory undertakers, but it can't force them to work together.
We hold formal full co-ordination meetings four times a year. Council staff responsible for road maintenance and new projects attend, together with representatives of all the statutory undertakers and the police.
There are some particular problems with make joint-working take place.
Telecommunications ("cable") companies carry out much of the high-profile work in Westminster. This is a highly competitive business. Not surprisingly some cable companies are reluctant to reveal their forward plans, beyond their legal obligations.
Some works cannot safely take place together and sometimes due to the location of each company’s equipment in the street the space they need to occupy to let them work together would be more disruptive.
The council has been successful in persuading some companies to work together and lay several cables in one trench, but it can only persuade, it cannot force them to do it.
When a company needs parking bays suspended to allow it to carry out works, it tells the council its planned start and finish date for the works.
Unfortunately, sometimes the company fails to start on the planned date. If they tell us, we can change the parking suspensions accordingly, but if they don't tell us we can't. Similarly they often simply don't tell us if they finish earlier than planned.
There are so many requests for parking suspensions that we can't check every one to see if the work started and finished on time. We have to rely on the people who carry out the work to tell us of any changes.
To combat this problem, the council now works very closely with statutory undertakers on major projects. The council insists that the parking suspension staff are involved right from the planning stage and throughout the life of the works. The council provides such contractors with “return to service” stickers to release bays for public use as soon as possible.
The council's environmental action line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 02076412000.
Certain companies or public bodies have a legal right (under the New Roads and Street Works Act) to dig up roads in order to install new pipes, cables etc, or to maintain their existing ones. These are known as statutory undertakers.
In general these are companies that supply water, gas, electricity and telecommunications. There are a few others that are less obvious, for example London Underground, who need to gain access to underground tunnels etc.
20 years ago the position in Westminster was relatively simple, with the great majority of excavations being carried out by Thames Water, London Electricity, Eastern Gas and British Telecom. The main change has been brought about by the electronic revolution. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) issues licences to new telecommunications ('cable') companies, granting them the status of statutory undertaker. Because of Westminster's importance as a business centre most companies want to lay a cable network in the city as soon as they have been granted a licence. There are now 15 'cable' companies able to work in Westminster, and we expect that the DTI will license more in the future.
This Act regulates the relationship between the council and the statutory undertakers. Westminster Council is unhappy with the lack of control that this gives the council, and has been pressing for a change in legislation to increase its control.
Most of the statutory undertakers do not carry out their works themselves, but use contractors to do the work. The contractors should display a board saying who they are, who they are working for and giving a contact phone number.