RAC Foundation News - March 2019

Guarantees. They come with almost everything we buy: from cars to new houses; ovens to televisions; phones to freezers.

And now government is looking to make utility companies give five-year guarantees on the reinstatement work they carry out after they’ve dug up the roads to do such things as lay cables and mend pipes.

Should cracks and potholes appear in that time then the gas, water, electricity or telecoms firm could be fined, called back to put things right or banned from carrying out similar work in the future.

Actually, under an existing code of practice, the utilities already have an obligation to certify their work for two years after completion, but ministers say that it is now reasonable to extend that period because of improved materials, machinery and techniques.

Ministers point to other recent initiatives which they say demonstrate a desire to find technological solutions to the pothole problem, including the announcement last month of real-world tests of plastic road surfaces in Cumbria and the trial of geothermal energy to keep car parks in Bedfordshire from freezing over.

More mundanely they are also rolling out an England-wide lane rental scheme which would see utility companies paying up to £2,500 a day to book space on the busiest roads to carry out their works.

With an estimated £10 billion needed to clear the total road carriageway maintenance backlog in England and Wales – and that’s not including, for example, the additional £7 billion the RAC Foundation recently identified as required to bring local authority bridges in Britain up to scratch – anything that can be put in place to prevent this figure rising must be welcomed.

However, a practical question with the road guarantee must be whether councils have the resources to actively and adequately check all of the repair work and follow up where it falls short of expectations.

Also, whilst utility firms are responsible for an estimated 1.6 million road ‘openings’ each year in England, councils themselves are responsible for about 900,000 more and it is important that they work to the same high standards increasingly expected of those in the private sector.

Ultimately there might be no true guarantees in life – other than the prospect of death and taxes – but this latest move does at least show that government recognises the misery often felt by motorists when they encounter yet another set of road or street works. If drivers can at least be reassured that repairs will, increasingly, be got right first time then that must be progress.

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