Utility companies that take too long to complete road works could face higher charges, Transport Minister Norman Baker announced on Tuesday.
All utility companies who dig up the road must agree a time frame for their works with the local council. If a firm overstays this period and has not negotiated the additional time with the local council then they face an 'over-run charge' for each additional day they spend on the road.
Currently, the maximum daily over-run charge is £2,500, depending on the type of works and the sort of street being occupied. From 1 October 2012 this will rise on the busiest roads to £5,000 a day for the first three extra days, rising to £10,000 a day from the fourth extra day onward. Councils must spend over-run charge income on implementing transport policies.
Local authorities can use their discretion and do not have to charge the maximum charge in all circumstances.
Baker said: "We know that utility firms need to dig up the road to maintain the infrastructure we all rely upon but sometimes this work takes far too long to complete, causing disruption and frustration for everyone using the road.
"Increasing these charges means that utilities will pay penalties which reflect the cost of the disruption suffered when works go on longer than they should.
"The increases will also provide an incentive for utilities to finish works on time and prevent people sitting in unnecessary traffic jams in the first place."
The DfT is also changing the way over-run charges are structured to reflect the fact that all over-runs cause the same level of disruption regardless of how long the work was originally planned for.
The Government's response to the consultation on over-run charges can be found here. Regulations will be laid in Parliament shortly and are due to come in to force in October 2012.
The Government has also recently put forward proposals for councils to use lane rental schemes which would see utilities pay a daily charge to do works on the busiest roads as well as measures to reduce bureaucracy for councils wanting to implement road works permit schemes.
The legislation which allows over-run charges to be levied by local authorities is the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, s.74. New regulations will be required to effect these changes and these will be laid shortly. Chapter 10 of the Co-ordination Code of Practice will be updated to reflect the change in charges.