Third Standing Committee
ON DELEGATED LEGISLATION
28th November 1995–16th July 1996
HOUSE OF COMMONS
Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
DRAFT STREET WORKS (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1995
Tuesday 28 November 1995
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: Mr. James Hill
Barnes, Mr. Harry (North-East Derbyshire)
Carlisle, Mr. John (Luton, North)
Churchill, Mr. Winston (Davyhulme)
Coombs, Mr. Simon (Swindon)
Cunningham, Mr. Jim (Coventry, South-East)
Dowd, Mr. Jim (Lewisham, West)
Fenner, Dame Peggy (Medway)
Fowler, Sir Norman (Sutton Coldfield)
Garel-Jones, Mr. Tristan (Watford)
Grylls, Sir Michael (North-West Surrey)
Harris, Mr. David (St. Ives)
Livingstone, Mr. Ken (Brent, East)
Moss, Mr. Malcolm (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office)
Parry, Mr. Robert (Liverpool, Riverside)
Rooney, Mr. Terry (Bradford, North)
Smith, Mr. Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Walker, Mr. A. Cecil (Belfast, North)
Wood, Mr. Timothy (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)
Mr. F. A. Cranmer, Committee Clerk2 3 Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Tuesday 28 November 1995
[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Malcolm Moss): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Street Works (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The order introduces new provisions to facilitate the coordination and control of street works in Northern Ireland where at present there is no legislation specifically aimed at controlling street works in their totality. Control is currently exercised through the enabling legislation of the utilities and certain provisions of the law in relation to roads and road traffic. In addition, the Northern Ireland Roads Authority and Utilities Committee operates a voluntary agreement, based on the Horne report, which sets out a sensible code of practice for opening and reinstating roads. If the disruption and congestion caused by street works is to be limited, it is essential that works carried out by increasingly active utilities should be properly regulated by up-to-date legislation. The order, therefore, replaces the current arrangements with provisions similar to those already in force in England and Wales under part III of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. Modifications have been made to reflect the different legislative and administrative background in Northern Ireland, in particular the fact that the Department of the Environment is the sole roads authority. Like the 1991 Act, the order sets out a broad framework within which matters of detail can be dealt with under regulations and codes of practice. This facilitates amendment by way of subordinate legislation in the light of changing circumstances. The key aims of the order are to reduce the delay and disruption to road users caused by street works and to improve the quality of workmanship, first, by encouraging more co-operation between undertakers of works and the Department and other street authorities and, secondly, by clearly defining their respective duties and responsibilities. The order generally applies not only to roads maintainable by the Department but also to all private streets, including land laid out as a way. Under its provisions, utilities and other undertakers are fully responsible for their works, including the permanent reinstatement of the street surface. The Department and other street authorities have a duty to co-ordinate their own and undertakers' works in the street. A key instrument in the Department's co-ordination role will be a register showing information on works of all kinds in streets. There are requirements on safety at works in progress and qualifications for workers and supervisors designed to improve the standard of work. 4 Many of the requirements in the order are supported by criminal penalties for failure to comply. Special controls are to apply to certain streets where traffic or engineering consideration so require. A new system of street works licences, granted by the street authority, replaces the arrangements for licensing the placing of apparatus in a public road under the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993. A street works licence will be required by those other than persons with a statutory right to place apparatus or break up streets. Therefore, all those undertaking street works, including the major utilities, small building firms, cable TV operators and so on, will be subject to common requirements contained in a single order. By making the law in Northern Ireland broadly compatible with that in Great Britain, which is a desirable end in itself, the utilities, many of which are national bodies, will benefit from a uniformity of requirements throughout the United Kingdom. Moreover, considerable benefit to road users generally and to business in particular, will ensue from improved planning and execution of street works and reduced traffic congestion. I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): We need not spend too long on the measure, which is a welcome sign of the increased harmonisation between the regulations on this side of the Irish sea and in Northern Ireland. It is strange that even the straightforward and mundane activity of digging holes in the road is different in Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. In view of the momentous events of this week—the result of the divorce referendum in the Irish Republic, the visit tomorrow of President Clinton to London, Belfast and Dublin and the precarious position of the peace process—I am not sure where in that panoply the street works order will stand. However, it shows a move to more normal relations in Northern Ireland affairs. The measure is largely technical and seems to bring some parity to arrangements. I have a few questions. The order mentions street authority and street managers but the Minister referred only to the Department of the Environment as having responsibility for regulation and for being the street authority or manager at any time. Can he tell us who else might be affected? If the measure serves to reduce disruption and improves safety, with adequate provision for inevitable emergency works by statutory undertakers, it will serve the people of Northern Ireland well. Nothing more infuriates people than roadworks or holes in roads or pavements which are there for longer than necessary. If anything does compound that, it is that one hole is filled in but another undertaker turns up a few days later and starts digging for another purpose. Improved co-ordination between the utilities and the authorities will be all to the good. The order mentions reinstatement and the authority's power to take action when it is below standard. The Minister mentioned provision for what I assume would be fines for failure to comply with adequate standards. I hope that the Department will take reinstatement seriously. People grow deeply distressed not only about inconvenient road works but poor quality of finishing that can become a hazard to all kinds of road users. We welcome the broad thrust of the measure.5
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Many streets in Northern Ireland connect with streets in Ireland. The measure is welcome in relation to harmonisation with English and Welsh regulations, but is there any harmonisation with regulations in the Republic? If not, should not there be some method to extend links and connections in areas that are not contentious?
Mr. Moss: Judging by the questions asked I think that the Committee is more or less ready to agree the regulation. On reinstatement, we feel that we have a good standard in Northern Ireland and the regulation will reinforce that standard. Since 1973, when the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended, many activities like this are centralised and in the hands of the Government. The Department of the 6 Environment is the sole authority for all road and street works. The Department is the street authority defined in the order. However, some roads, streets and pathways are not adopted and are not the responsibility of the Department. In those cases, it is proposed that we set up street managers, under the umbrella of the street authority, to ensure that the order's provisions are met if any works take place. There is no provision in the order for harmonisation with Eire; nor do I think that there should be.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Draft Street Works (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)
Coombs, Mr. Simon
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Fenner, Dame Peggy