Roadworks should benefit residents more than utilities, say councillors

Roadworks
Roadworks

Oxfordshire County Council should take more control over its roads to ensure utility companies do work at residents’ convenience, a group of councillors has called for.

The performance scrutiny committee wants firms to need permission from the local authority to do work on roads – a major change from what happens at the moment.

Currently companies decide when they want to carry out work and are given a notice by the council to do so. In 2017/18, 25,000 of the notices were issued.

Councillors said this is a ‘passive’ approach which benefits companies more than it helps residents.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Grove and Wantage, Jenny Hannaby, said: “We’d have much more control over the [companies] and how they work… if they’re not doing their work in the time permitted then we can fine them or extend work with them.

“I know utilities are the bane of the public’s life, as well as ours.”

Cllr Hannaby led the cross-party group, which looked at what could be done to improve Oxfordshire’s roads.

She was joined by John Sanders, Labour councillor for Cowley, and Conservative councillor for Hanborough and Minster Lovell, Liam Walker.

Cllr Sanders said ensuring the council has more control over highways in the future was the ‘number one’ recommendation of the group’s work.

He said work showing the number of potholes on Oxfordshire’s roads could increase by 32 per cent by 2024 showed ‘managed decline’.

But the council said it plans to inject about £80m extra into highways over the next five years as part of a borrowing programme.

Owen Jenkins, the council’s director of infrastructure operations, said: “We’re entering a different era where there is a huge investment planned for the highway network and as a result of that it is the right time to refocus and make sure we get [work] right.”

The council maintains about 3,000 miles of roads. Roadworks outside Oxford are completed by Skanska and in the city they are done by the city council’s company, Oxford Direct Services.

Other councillors said they were fed up of utility companies working on roads in their ward.

Eynsham councillor Charles Mathew called for more co-operation with the companies so councillors ‘don’t look [like] fools’.

The Conservative member said: “Traffic lights and various other things on the highway appear in one’s area without any warning whatsoever, any forewarning whatsoever or any intimation to the councillor as to why they are there.

“The first thing we know at 8 o’clock in the morning is a phone call asking: ‘why have they put traffic lights up here?’”

The recommendations made by Cllrs Hannaby, Sanders and Walker were approved by the performance scrutiny committee and will be discussed by the council’s cabinet later.