Transport Minister Norman Baker approved the country’s latest permit scheme today covering parts of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex.
The scheme is the sixth in the country and will give four councils more powers to co-ordinate road works and take tough action against companies who break the rules – including issuing fines of up to £5,000.
The four authorities are Bedford Borough, Hertfordshire, Luton and Southend-on-Sea.
The scheme requires anyone carrying out road works to apply for a permit in advance and allows councils to set conditions on timing, co-ordination and the amount of road space left available to road users.
Companies who work without a permit or break the conditions will be fined.
Baker said: “I am delighted to be able to give the go ahead for this permit scheme.
“Although we all know that road works are sometimes unavoidable, the disruption they cause can be a hugely frustrating for road users and pedestrians alike, as well as costing businesses time and money.
“That is why it is important that councils use the powers they have to make sure utility firms carry out works with consideration for those who use the road.
“We are determined to tackle problem road works and make sure that those who dig up the road are made accountable when disruption occurs.”
The East of England permit scheme is the latest to be granted approval, following Kent County Council, Northamptonshire County Council, London councils, St Helens and authorities in parts of Yorkshire.
The move has been welcomed by the Institute of Highways Engineers.
“In many areas of the country, especially where the relationships between the Highway Authority and the utilities are relatively good, the existing powers available within the NRSWA are used successfully,” said Richard Hayes, incoming President of the IHE.
“Authorities have the ability to stop works and to fine contractors if they allow openings to go beyond their noticed period. Restrictions for parts of the network that are traffic sensitive and where there are special structures can also be managed.
“For many authorities, the process of building a business case for a permit scheme that has only to break-even is a step too far. For those running the permit schemes time will tell if there has been a reduction in unplanned congestion.”
But Hayes pointed out that there were wide variations around the UK, and that this scheme is relevant for the major cities and urban conurbations.
He said: “A process such as this would be too bureaucratic and add little value to the public perception of a coordinated approach to road and street works in the rural parts of the country.”