Street Works UK hosted its first ever webinar last week, where our industry panel answered your questions on the future priorities for our sector.
At its peak, we were delighted to welcome 49 representatives from across our membership who helped participate in a thought-provoking and wide-ranging discussion. Chaired by our Chief Executive, Clive Bairsto CBE, the panel and wider membership discussed a variety of different issues:
Street works and COVID-19
Our panel were asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the street works sector, and how things are likely to change over this period. They were in agreement that this period will definitely having an impact on the industry. The main challenge highlighted was around social distancing both in the offices and outside, where remaining more than 2m when working in public. It was suggested that information boards could be a common sense solution to this.
The audience posed a number of questions on SROH, including around guidance on defects, the implementation period for the 4th Edition and Street Works UK’s views around five-year guarantee periods. The panel reiterated current advice on reinstatements during this period; urging authorities to apply it. There was a belief that the new edition allows more flexibility about the materials that can be used; but that there are issues that the Street Works UK Working Group have already raised with the Department for Transport (DfT). It was suggested that Street Works UK and the Working Group would not be able to convince the DfT to address all of their suggestions, despite previous meetings with officials in the DfT and the Roads Minster, Baroness Vere. However, in conversations with the DfT, Street Works UK will seek a lengthy extension around the implementation period. It was also noted that if the DfT decided to introduce a five-year guarantee period, aspects of the 4th Edition would need to be reviewed again – an issue that has been continually raised by the Street Works UK working group.
A number of questions were raised related to the launch of Street Manager, following the delay of the go-live date to July.
There was a feeling amongst members that the DfT would be unwilling to extend the go-live date beyond July, however sufficient safeguards need to be put in place to help members adjust to the new system. This is even more important as the agile nature of the project means that the product that was set to go-live in April, will be different to the one that will go-live in July. Members would therefore need an opportunity to properly train staff to use the new system. Alongside this, it was felt that there is an opportunity to influence a ‘soft-launch’ of the system, whereby Street Works UK could seek reassurances around the background regulations to ensure that local authorities are pragmatic in their use of FPNs.
A question from the audience concerned Ofwat, and whether they had endorsed guidance on essential works. The panel discussed Ofwat’s role as primarily an economic regulator, one that is currently facing other pressing issues. They agreed that more engagement with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be useful; though there is no one department currently dealing with this issue for the water industry.
A number of concerns were raised about consistency among local and highways authorities when enforcing Section 58s and permit fees. The panel agreed that authorities can often act in an unhelpful way against guidance and legislation. On Section 58s, the periods associated with them will be reduced when Street Manager comes into force. On permit fees, the panel expressed concern on authorities campaigning for a higher maximum permit fee after the current crisis, as a way to generate extra income. The panel agreed that this was an issue worth monitoring and it was suggested that Street Works UK could work with JAG to ensure there is consistency in the way that local and highways authorities are applying regulations.
Finally, the audience asked questions about collaboration between authorities, Street Works UK and others. The panel agreed that there is now a greater dialogue with local and highways authorities, with COVID-19 providing such an opportunity. More widely, it was felt that there would be no such meeting of minds between the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and the DfT. It was suggested that there is currently political points scoring taking place, as well as different points of view on the way forward in terms of safety.
The session was recorded and can be viewed by accessing the Street Works UK members area. For details of how to access and view this, please contact the Street Works UK team.