HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc457-8W
Mr. Chope

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has yet completed his consideration of the report of the review chaired by Professor Michael Home of the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Yes. We are most grateful to all those who responded to our request for comments following publication of the report in November last year. Having considered the report in the light of all those comments, we accept most of the recommendations. In view of the number and detail of the recommendations, I am placing in the Library a memorandum giving our comments on each.

We endorse the central recommendation of the report that, subject to certain reserve powers in the event of default, the responsibility for carrying out reinstatements following works in the highway by public utilities should be placed upon those utilities themselves. It is envisaged however that local authorities would be able to tender for such work if they wished. We also endorse the related recommendations of the report for securing an improved standard of reinstatements, including better specifications for materials and workmanship, new performance standards, and improved training for workmen. We accept the need to strengthen the powers of highway authorities to inspect works, but with a simpler system of charging for such inspections. We are sure that the integration of responsibility for reinstatements, together with the associated improvements in standards, will promote speedier and more satisfactory reinstatements, to the benefit of all road users. We also accept generally the recommendations for improvement of traffic management, and for improving the safeguards for road users, in particular those who are handicapped.

The majority recommendation on the costs of diversionary works on utility apparatus required in consequence of highway schemes has proved controversial. We accept that there are problems with the existing system, but we are not convinced that the majority recommendation is the right solution. We think it would be preferable for the parties involved to agree a code of practice on diversionary works, in order to ensure that no unnecessary works are undertaken.

It is proposed therefore to invite the local authority associations and the National Joint Utilities Group to engage in negotiations to this end, and to report on them by the end of 12 months at the latest. In the event of the negotiations not succeeding, the Government would need to consider bringing forward a cost sharing solution in order to provide the necessary incentives.

Primary legislation will be required to implement certain of these recommendations, and the Government intend to bring it forward when there is a suitable opportunity. This legislation would take a simpler form than the present Act, and would provide for a number of matters to be dealt with by subordinate legislation. However, it is important that action should proceed on those recommendations which do not require prior legislation or on which detailed technical work is required to prepare the ground. In this work, it is important that we should keep in close touch with both the local authorities and the utilities, and have direct access to the best expert advice available. I accordingly propose at an early stage to set up a street works advisory committee on the broad lines recommended in the report.

We believe that action on the lines I have indicated will make a positive and lasting contribution to establishing a more satisfactory framework for the execution of works by public utilities in highways, and will result in safer and more convenient arrangements for all road users.