MOTORISTS are to be provided with a hotline to report roadworks that go on longer than planned in an effort to tackle disruption caused by utility firms.
Companies digging up the roads will be told they must put up signs with completion dates so that members of the public know when they have over-run.
Drivers will be encouraged to report those that break their deadline so that the city council can take up cudgels with the companies involved on the motorists’ behalf.
The new system is similar to the Evening News’ Get It Sorted column – which aims to ensure that road defects, among other problems, are fixed – and follows on from the Clarence hotline.
It is designed to overcome the problem of a small council team, of just three full-time and one part-time inspectors, trying to monitor all the roadworks in the Capital.
City transport leader Lesley Hinds said: “There is a deep frustration among the public that a lot of these works are supposed to take two days, for example, but run on for a week or more.
“We want to hear from residents whose lives are being disrupted by works that could easily be finished earlier.”
Cllr Hinds said she tested out the proposed system herself last week on a street near to her home in north Edinburgh.
She emailed the transport department as a member of the public and received a reply explaining that the utility had been warned it had overrun its schedule and had to be finished in several days, which it was.
She added: “Sometimes all these companies need is to be reminded they are breaching their schedule.”
Transport and environment leaders signalled the crackdown on firms after the Scottish Road Works Commissioner fined four utilities for failing to reopen 20 per cent of roads on time earlier this year.
Inspectors from the council also released a separate report today which revealed one in five projects was of substandard quality.
Mark Turley, director of the service for communities department, advised councillors that there were potentially hundreds of sites in Edinburgh which utility firms were leaving in a substandard state.
He wrote: “There are serious concerns about the quality and longevity of utility company reinstatements. There are potentially 600 failures going un-inspected and unreported from the 70 per cent of reinstatements not subject to the sample inspection programme.”
If the current situation continues, an estimated 910 of the 6500 reinstatement works carried out this year will fail in some way within a period of just 24 months.
Raymond Elliot, liaison manager at the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner, said: “I am pleased to see that Edinburgh council has undertaken this review as to how best use its resources to help drive improvements in the standard of road works.”
Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists
The IAM welcomes Edinburgh city council’s plan to give Edinburgh residents and businesses a much greater role in reporting badly run and poorly executed roadworks.
For far too long, high-charging utility companies have been getting away with poor-quality work that leads to increased demands on tight council road repair budgets. Money spent rectifying mistakes is money that could be much better spent on repairing worn-out roads and addressing the pothole backlog.
Any system has to be user-friendly and give feedback to those who complain. There is nothing more likely to put people off reporting things than if they never hear about the outcome.
It is often difficult for a driver, pedestrian, biker or cyclist to know when a set of roadworks is actually due to finish, so the council should encourage reports but do the checking for the caller.
Many roadwork problems are often short-lived, eg lights not working, missing signs, work overrunning, and getting these right should all be part of this push.
If this system can release the council’s experts to spend more time checking core samples so that utilities don’t escape their responsibilities, then it deserves to be a big success.
SAMPLE FINES THAT CAN MOUNT UP
In January, BT Openreach was fined £38,500, Scottish Water £38,000, Virgin Media £14,000 and Scottish Hydro £2000 for repeatedly failing “coring sample” tests.
The fines were issued by the Scottish Road Works Commissioner – which can charge up to £50,000 – after the firms failed to reach an 80 per cent pass rate. Coring is done by inspectors who extract a sample of road to assess its quality.
Thousands of samples are taken each year and £96 fines levied for each breach. In south-west Edinburgh, 21 per cent of coring samples failed in 2011-2012 and overall between nine and 14 per cent of reinstatement projects – the relaying of surfaces after utility works – failed a quality test.
The regime only involves testing 30 per cent of projects, although the system is being reformed subject to approval by councillors later this month. Authorities can issue repeat fines if works overrun.
Inspectors can serve a notice on utilities if they fail to finish on time and can, in some cases, finish work themselves and bill the firm if necessary.
Fines of £80 and £120 can be handed out in multiples in some cases.
Ultimately, long overruns on works can be considered an obstruction, a summary offence, and the councils can refer utilities to the procurator fiscal.