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Kent County Council wants to increase fines given to utilities companies for overrunning roadworks

Councillors have slammed the “pitiful” fines handed out to utility companies that snarl up roads with overrunning works.

In 2022/23, the county council issued 327 penalties worth £336,682.

Road closures can’t be helped, but the length of time they’re in place could, argues the boss of Kent’s highways. Stock image
Road closures can’t be helped, but the length of time they’re in place could, argues the boss of Kent’s highways. Stock image

It is not known how many individual days the fines equated to, but they are believed to be capped by the Department for Transport at less than £100 per day.

The issue was raised by Thanet councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) at a full council meeting this week.

Cabinet member for highways, Cllr Neil Baker (Con), conceded the fines are too low to deter big utility companies from treating them as a “business expense”.

Cllr Baker said: “It’s clearly an area where we have increasing concerns. We have all experienced the problems overrunning works can cause to the roads in Kent.

“The fines are of a level that these companies simply see them as a business expense and can be forgotten about.

Cabinet member Neil Baker
Cabinet member Neil Baker

“I would love to be able to levy bigger fines but currently our hands are tied.”

Cllr Lewis said: “Obviously these fines are no deterrent, they’re pitiful. If they were sufficiently high, there would be fewer overruns on the work.

“Utility companies make billions of pounds each year, so these fines are merely petty cash to them.”

The chamber was told KCC is also recruiting four new highways inspectors, who will monitor roadwork projects, three of whom start next month.

Cllr Lewis responded: “I welcome this but it is rather belated. I wonder if four will be enough, perhaps in time we can get one per district authority area.”

Margate county councillor Barry Lewis
Margate county councillor Barry Lewis

He said he understood the fines are set at around £75 per day.

Earlier this year, chairman of the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee, Cllr Seán Holden, revealed there had been a 225% increase in the number of temporary road closures in recent years.

The number of closure permits shot up from 4,833 in 2017/18 to 10,736 in 2022/23.

While the majority of those closures were driven by Kent Highways’ need to repair and maintain roads, the utility firms had also contributed to the rise.

Of the water companies, South East Water had 352 planned and 1,391 emergency permits and Southern Water 450 and 530 respectively. Thames Water had 104 planned and 151 emergency closures.

A month of disruption lies ahead
A month of disruption lies ahead

Southern Gas Networks had 848 planned and 150 labelled as emergency while BT Openreach had 1,112 and 546 respectively.

Elsewhere, UK Power Networks had 333 planned and 287 emergency work projects while others accounted for 426 planned and 125 emergency schemes.

The boss of the Three Mariners in Rainham said he was thousands of pounds out of pocket and had missed out on a “bumper summer” due to a raft of roadworks, some unannounced, along the Lower Rainham Road over the course of three months.

In September, residents in Maidstone who had endured months of closures for CityFibre broadband works learned they would be of no benefit, after the firm decided to put its superfast broadband rollout on hold.

There was a success story in nearby Leeds however, with a six-month project to lay new water mains there cut to three months, despite affecting trade to the village’s pub and causing a substantial drop in visitors to nearby Leeds Castle.

The roadworks in Kent last week. Picture: One.Network
The roadworks in Kent last week. Picture: One.Network

For the latest roadworks around the county, see our weekly round-up here

Cllr Holden, who has been leading a campaign to keep roads open where possible during non-working hours, said: “It is unacceptable that we have seen the massive growth in road closures that are a nuisance to people all over Kent.

“I don’t think that anyone is going to argue with that. Everyone seems to say the same thing – that journey times have increased as has the inconvenience it causes.”

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