A real balancing act

Keeping Hampshire on the move

Jul 1 2016

Ian Ackerman

With between 40,000 and 50,000 roadworks on Hampshire’s roads each year - ranging from quick operations that take less than an hour, to major road improvement schemes that take many months or even years to complete – it’s no wonder they can clash.

The works are undertaken by a wide variety of organisations, and they are all legally obliged to notify Hampshire County Council’s Streetworks team of what they are going to do.  So what does the County Council do to avoid roadworks causing major traffic gridlock?

Ian heads up the team as Streetworks Manager and has the unenviable task of co-ordinating all these works, and any other events on the roads, such as carnivals, air shows and sporting events, to help keep Hampshire on the move.

He has to maintain a difficult balance between keeping the roads clear, and enabling vital service networks to be maintained and repaired, especially in situations that involve maintaining residents' water or electricity supplies.

The first challenge is the sheer number of works by different organisations. Ian explains: 

The companies that look after our gas, electricity, water, broadband and telephone systems often need to access pipes and cables under the roads and pavements. There are around 50 companies in Hampshire supplying utility services. And of course, we at the County Council also undertake roadworks, as part of maintaining the road surfaces and markings, and sometimes making changes to road layouts.

All organisations are legally obliged to notify the County Council before starting roadworks. The County Council cannot refuse to allow the works, but it does have legal powers to request specific timing, if this is needed to avoid clashes with other works, to avoid work taking place on a diversion route, or to reduce traffic congestion. The Council also often requests that signs or letters be provided to alert residents and road users. 

However the timescales can be challenging.

Around 90% of the works on Hampshire’s roads take less than three days to complete and do not involve closing the road. For small-scale works like these, organisations are only required to give us three days notice,” says Ian. “We use the time as best we can to negotiate on timings, so that roadworks near to each other do not clash, if we can avoid it. However we try to avoid delaying the utility companies too much. We don’t want any residents to go without vital services like water and energy.

Emergency work is even more tricky to co-ordinate. 

If there is a genuine emergency that poses an immediate threat, such as a gas leak, the service company in charge has to start work immediately, to protect everyone’s safety. They can give us their notice up to two hours after starting work.

In such cases, Ian and his team may decide to arrange for other works in the area to be paused or postponed, or they may ask the company to provide communications such as signs and letter drops to inform affected road users and residents.

Ian’s team is also responsible for making sure that all works, including those by other organisations, are completed on time, and that the road is left in good condition afterwards. 

Road users need to be able to rely on the timescales they are given for roadworks,” says Ian. “We have legal powers to fine organisations if they don’t notify us properly, or if their works over-run, and we do fine them when this happens. The amount of the fine usually depends on the reasons for the over-run, but can be up to £20,000 per day, unless they have a valid engineering reason.

Ian says the biggest challenge is prioritising the various different works. 

As residents and road users ourselves, we know how frustrating it can be to face delays on the roads, and we also know how important it is to have reliable water, telephone, energy and broadband. We have to consider carefully the disruption caused by allowing a job to proceed, compared to the disruption caused by delaying it. It’s a real balancing act.