Why do we need a Scottish Road Works Commissioner?
The role of Commissioner was created to oversee improvements to the planning, co-ordination and quality of road works in Scotland. The founding legislation envisages that this will be done by monitoring road works across Scotland by promoting compliance with legislation and promoting good practice.
What do you mean by monitoring road works?
The Commissioner's office has not been set up to inspect individual road works. The monitoring will mainly be at a strategic level and related to how well the works are being planned and co-ordinated. Co-ordination and planning is undertaken by road authorities and utility companies entering details of their planned works on the Scottish Road Works Register Information extracted from the Register is used in indicators which provide a body of evidence on the performance of roads authorities and utility companies.
Who is responsible for managing road works in Scotland?
The day to day management of works on roads is as follows:
- The road authorities (councils for local roads and Transport Scotland for motorways and trunk roads) retain responsibility for the co-ordination of all road works on the roads;
- The reinstatement of road surfaces following excavation remains the responsibility of the organisation which carried out the works. Road authorities have powers to inspect works to ensure that utility companies are meeting their obligations;
- The traffic management at road works (cones, signs and barriers) remains the responsibility of those undertaking the works; and
- Any decision related to the repair and maintenance of roads remains with the roads authority.
Who can I complain to when things go wrong?
In the first instance complaints should be addressed to the roads authority or utility company undertaking the works. Should you consider the response to be unsatisfactory you may forward your complaint to the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner who will seek a response from the organisation involved. It should be noted however that the Commissioner's office is not resourced to undertake inspections or detailed investigations of complaints regarding individual works. That said, any such complaints passed on to the Commissioner could provide additional information with regards to the performance of individual organisations.
How can the over-running road works be prevented?
Road works by their very nature are not always straight forward. There may, on occasion, be extenuating circumstances that cause the works to overrun, however the legislation is clear that those undertaking road works should "complete the works with all such dispatch as is reasonably practicable". Should the roads authority deem the works to be taking longer than is reasonably necessary, they have powers to intervene, carry out the works themselves and charge the utility company accordingly.
Why is it that some reinstatements appear to be of poor quality?
Roads authorities routinely inspect a sample of completed road works and record the results of the inspections in the Scottish Road Works Register. They can also carry out additional inspections if they consider it necessary. If a reinstatement does not meet the nationally agreed specification then the utility company has to carry out remedial work. In addition, every two years, a national programme is undertaken to investigate the quality of reinstatements through a testing process called ‘coring’. This link provides more information.
Why don't utilities share the same trench so that the same road only needs to be dug up once?
Where appropriate, the sharing of trenches by multiple utilities is encouraged but it must be understood that there are practical accessibility constraints due to the differing depths and locations of the pipes and cabling. There are also implications for safety as certain utilities apparatus cannot be located together at the same depth i.e. water and electricity services. There are also practical issues related to the different speeds with which certain works can be undertaken.
Why are utilities allowed to dig up a newly resurfaced road?
Utility companies have a statutory right under the New Roads and the Street Works Act 1991 to place, inspect, maintain, adjust, repair, alter, change position or renew apparatus that belongs to them and is located within the carriageway. However, the roads authorities and utility companies in Scotland have agreed that restrictions can be placed to create an embargo on resurfaced roads for a period of up to 3 years under certain conditions.
Why do utilities keep digging up the same part of the road?
There are many reasons why this may occur. It may be that a fault has occurred within apparatus that has been newly placed, a general failure to co-ordinate between utilities that are both undertaking works or that the reinstatement has failed to meet specifications and has to be repaired. The Scottish Road Works Register is a tool that facilitates the planning and co-ordination of road works through which all proposed works are registered and opportunities for co-ordination recognised.
Plastic barriers that protect pedestrians from road works are not always in their proper position. Why is this the case and how can it be prevented?
The safety barriers that are used when road works are undertaken are now often made of lighter materials than had previously been the case and vandalism or indeed weather conditions may move them. That said, the Code of Practice for Safety at Street Works and Road Works states "Always keep the site safe with signs, cones, lights and barriers clean and correctly placed. When no one is on site, make sure that the site is regularly inspected. Damaged or displaced equipment must be replaced promptly. Emergencies should be dealt with, without delay".
Can roads authorities or utilities be penalised for poor performance?
The Commissioner can impose a penalty of up to £100,000 reviewed in the T(S)A 2019 to both roads authorities and utility companies for a systematic failure to co-ordinate or co-operate respectively. Both roads authorities and utility companies are regularly provided with an indication of their performance through analysis reports and performance reviews. The power to issue penalties will only be used as a last resort after opportunities to improve have failed to result in satisfactory performance being achieved.