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Utility firms criticise council’s permit charges


03 April 2020

A council has defended its decision to impose permit charges for streetworks across its entire road network. 

Companies say the policy of the recently created unitary authority of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) contradicts DfT guidance.

Permits give councils more power to co-ordinate streetworks activities than the noticing system they replace. The DfT requires local highway authorities in England to introduce a permit scheme from this month or as soon as practical thereafter. 

The DfT’s 2015 guidance on permitting states: “It is most likely that schemes will apply permits to 100 per cent of the network, with permit fees being waived or discounted on lower priority roads. Schemes may also choose to operate permits only across the areas largely defined by its strategically significant streets.”

BCP’s scheme, which is due to commence on 1 June, will see permit fees set at the maximum allowable, ranging from £60 to £240 depending on the traffic classification of the road affected. 

The council’s “prudent” estimate is that 8,000 permits will be issued a year, generating annual income of £623,825. This will pay for administration, including six permit officers and two permit inspectors.

Responding to a consultation on the proposals, Openreach, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group, says the council’s plan to charge for all streets “goes against the ethos” of the DfT guidance.

Virgin Media concurs. Pointing to the DfT’s 2015 guidance, Virgin says: “Permit authorities must encourage works promoters to work wholly outside of traffic-sensitive times by offering discounted fees.”

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has told the council: “We are disappointed you have chosen to charge on all roads and charging the maximum fees for all streets. SSEN believes that there is less co-ordination required on non-traffic sensitive streets and do not agree charging maximum fees is required.” 

Responding to the criticisms, the council said: “We acknowledge and follow all advice and guidance offered but must note that the highway network of Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole is of a heavily urban nature and therefore nearly all the street network can be strategically significant at times. 

“Typical examples of this are that local traffic will always tend to avoid main distributors, not just at traffic sensitive times, and use streets of a lower classification. 

“Therefore, officers coordinating road space activities must ... expend similar resource considering all road space booking requests, hence why [we] are charging maximum fees across the network.” 

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