Westminster Report by The Rt Hon Mark Francois Member of Parliament for Rayleigh and Wickford – Progress with ‘Can the Cones’ Bill motors on.
AT the end of November last year, I published my Roadworks (Regulation) Bill, the essence of which is aimed at trying to bolster the regulation of roadworks and thus curtail the seemingly endless increase of roadworks in England and help ‘Can the Cones!’
As I am sure many of my constituents would agree, one of the great frustrations of modern life is queueing for ages in a line of traffic, inching forwards to get through a set of contra-flow traffic lights at a set of roadworks, so that you can crawl past a large hole in the ground, heavily coned-off, with absolutely no-one working on the site as you finally drive past it.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been reported that across a recent 12-month period there were over 77,000 street and roadworks within Essex, making it the most “dug up” County in Britain.
Yet, the curse of prolonged and overrunning roadworks is one which applies across the entire country, from motorways to country lanes.
Sometimes it is utility companies carrying our repairs or maintenance, sometimes broadband providers laying new fibre, or property developers connecting up new estates to the power grid. In many cases, however, the common factor is a lack of any palpable sense of urgency to get the job done, regardless of the inconvenience which is caused to the travelling public.
For this reason, the Bill has three key aims:
Firstly, the Bill would give local highways authorities much stronger powers to control the granting of permits to anyone who wanted to dig up the highway network. In effect, this would materially strengthen the hand of councils to negotiate much tighter conditions – including stricter deadlines.
Secondly, it would mandate highway authorities to take all practicable steps to “deconflict” roadworks in their areas.
It would also seek to prevent multiple works in the same neighbourhood leading to near gridlock, especially during peak periods. Furthermore, it would also prevent the same stretch of road from being dug up multiple times, in short succession, by different companies.
As we have seen, this has been a constant issue for the local area, with many of the main arteries in and out of the town, being brought to near chaos, several years ago, by multiple sets of roadworks being allowed to proceed at exactly the same time.
Thirdly, it would materially increase the fines for roadworks which persistently overrun. The fines have not been updated for years.
The bill would therefore significantly increase the penalties for over-running beyond the schedule agreed upon when the permit was first granted, and persistent offenders could be fined up to 10 percent of their corporate turnover, which should make even the most tin-earned company sit up and listen.
Following the publication of the Bill, I was able to secure a meeting with the Roads Minister, Richard Holden MP, and I was ably supported by fellow Essex MPs, Anna Firth MP, Vicky Ford MP and Essex County Coun Andrew Sheldon.
During the discussion, the Minister was clearly well aware of the great frustration caused to motorists around the country by excessive and overrunning roadworks and we discussed potential ways in which his Department could, at least in part, incorporate some of the spirit of the Bill, either under existing law and/or Department For Transport guidance.
I was thus delighted that the Minister subsequently endorsed the ‘Can the Cones’ campaign, stating: “Mark Francois has hit the nail on the head with his campaign to ‘Can the Cones’.
“Delays to road works and the disruption it causes are unacceptable.
“I welcome the proposals contained in Mark’s Roadworks Bill to increase fines on road works that run over time and for greater cooperation between authorities.”
Since that time, progress with the “Can the Cones” campaign has continued to motor on. Most notably, at Transport Questions in the House of Commons on the 13th of July, where the Roads Minister said: “I would like to thank my Rt Hon friend for his excellent work in this area and continued work alongside his colleagues in Southend, Chelmsford and elsewhere in Essex.”
“I am particularly delighted to see that he has managed to persuade Essex County Council to move ahead with the Lane rental scheme and his regulatory reform suggestions are currently being considered by the Department and I hope to be able to update the House later in the year because the progress that he has suggested is directly feeding into Government’s general policy.”
The Roads Minister publicly endorsed my campaign, several months ago, and has been discussing the issue to see what more can be done about it – with a view to a potential announcement in the autumn, after the summer recess.
In summary, I know from the many emails I receive about this issue that my constituents are heartily sick and tired of the amount of roadworks they have had to endure in recent years.
Thus, as their constituency MP, I have tried to tackle this longstanding issue head-on. Rest assured, that I will continue to press Ministers on the matter, to at least try and reduce the burden of roadworks in our daily lives.
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