abuse - Crewe Green Roundabout in nantwich pic under creative commons by Derek Harper

Cheshire East is to drive ahead with plans to introduce a lane rental scheme to speed up utility firms that dig up roads to carry out repairs.

But local councillors, while welcoming the news, have hit out at the delays in getting the scheme up and running.

Under the initiative, highways authorities can charge companies for the time road works occupy their busiest routes.

The maximum charge is £2,500 a day.

Head of highways Domenic de Bechi told a highways and transport committee: “It’s a set of arrangements to help a highways authority manage traffic on its highway network, particularly through the management of street works and coordinating them to the times when the network is least busy.

“And it does that through a charging mechanism, which essentially gives an incentive for utilities and statutory undertakers to time their works on the network at the least busy times.

“Although it involves charging, it’s important to stress that it shouldn’t be viewed as a source of income.

“Any surplus money that comes from the scheme will be used in line with the DfT guidance to mitigate the impact of street works on our network.”

Conservative group leader and Wybunbury Cllr Janet Clowes first suggested the scheme to the corporate policy committee in February 2023.

She said: “I’m delighted that it has finally come to this committee, albeit over a year late.

“I am disappointed that actually we are only literally starting from scratch now so that we won’t see any benefits to this until the next financial year 25/26.”

Cllr Allen Gage, Willaston and Rope, Conservative
Cllr Allen Gage

And Willaston Cllr Allen Gage (Con) added: “Can I ask why it has taken over a year to get the ball rolling on this, particularly when it was voted through cross-party 14 months ago and we’re really only starting on this endeavour now?”

He was told the delay had been caused by recruitment and retention issues in the highways department.

Cllr Mike Sewart (Poynton, Con) wanted to know why it would take another seven months to put together a scheme to submit to the DfT.

Mr de Bechi said it involved looking at the impact of the scheme on council’s finances, particularly in regard to existing street works permits, and a period of consultation.

He said they also had to ensure they were applying it to the right parts of the network – it can only be applied to 5% of the council’s road network.

The committee was unanimous in backing the scheme which will now be consulted on.

After consultation, the proposal will be brought back to the committee in November for approval prior to applying to the Secretary of State for permission to implement the scheme.

(Story by Belinda Ryan, local democracy reporter)

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