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Lane Rental Mission Creep Threatens UK Broadband Upgrades

Thursday, April 15th, 2021 (1:41 pm) - Score 2,832
Works to lay new paving slabs and temporary footpath closed red warning sign on London sidewalk

Street Works UK, a Trade Association that represents utilities and their contractors on street works issues, has warned that mission creep in the Government’s new Lane Rental scheme is threatening to significantly increase the cost of deploying new broadband networks across England and Wales.

The Lane Rental Scheme, which was introduced over two years ago (here), works by allowing local authorities across England and Wales to charge utility companies by the hour for civil engineering work that causes significant disruption (traffic congestion etc.). The charges can be up to £2,500 for each day the roads are occupied by the works.

The idea is that such charges would reflect the costs of congestion caused by such works, and that in turn would encourage works promoters to: “reduce the length of time taken to carry out the works; improve planning, coordination and working methods; carry out more works outside of peak times; complete works to the required standard first time.”

Until recently the disruption to broadband deployments has been kept to a minimum, which is partly because Local Authority’s (LA) have taken a soft approach to such work. The scheme also excludes works on footpaths from Lane Rental charges (except if a footpath closure requires a safe route for pedestrians that impacts a carriageway directly) and some related works can even be scheduled around off-peak hours to avoid the charges.

However, Street Works UK warns that some LAs have now decided, despite the rules, to apply Lane Rental charges to public footpaths too. “We believe that potential scope creep of Lane Rental schemes around footpaths will lead to escalating costs for utilities and ultimately impact customers without reducing congestion one iota,” said the trade body.

Clive Bairsto, CEO of Street Works UK, said:

“Many will know that in the coming months and years, street works will be a vital enabler of the Government’s priorities around economic recovery, levelling up, and transitioning to net-zero. Infrastructure projects to help future-proof the UK economy, such as super-fast broadband and upgrades to the electricity networks to allow for increased electric car usage, will all require street works. That is because these pipes and wires mostly run quietly under our nation’s roads in a complex web of hidden connectivity.

As a result, poorly thought out Lane Rental schemes will add costs, skew well-thought-through plans, and obstruct in such a way that they could be a significant drag on upgrading Britain’s towns and cities, slowing down progress and adding additional unnecessary cost burdens.

DfT guidance must inform the roll-out of Lane Rental schemes in different areas. For example, local authorities should particularly ensure their schemes do not cover more than 5% of their road network focused on the most traffic sensitive roads as per the guidance-and backed up by clear data.”

We can appreciate the need for such a scheme to help tackle road congestion, although at the same time it’s vitally important that cash strapped local authorities don’t put up new obstacles to the rollout of full fibre and other broadband networks, particularly where street works are required.

Such work is already extremely expensive and if those costs increase then operators may be left with little choice but to scale-back or slow down their deployments. Meanwhile, Street Works UK are continuing efforts to try and overcome such concerns by working more closely with local authorities to “realise our shared ambition of upgrading essential infrastructure.”

It’s worth noting that the Government’s past guidance said they might only approve use of the scheme for local authorities when key conditions are met, which included ensuring that permit schemes fully support the delivery of national infrastructure projects (e.g. HS2 and the full fibre rollout). So far this still appears to be holding up.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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18 Responses
  1. Chris Sayers says:

    Umm, how to shoot ones own foot comes to mind, if a authority is given an inch, them they will take a mile, in some ways I get it, however it’s not generally communication provider’s who leave hole here their and everywhere, new gas mains were being installed locally, the disruption that caused was horrible, this went on for week.

    Not a single operative was working for days on end, the water companies seem just as bad.

    Come to think of it, electricity companies seem pretty efficient.

    What do other Ispreview readers think, is that your experience as well.

    1. Chris says:

      gas works happening around here too.

      lots of holes in the pavements outside peoples homes & not a single person working on it today. no doubt they’ll be back Monday after leaving 3 streets a total mess.

  2. Mike says:

    What might help is of companies can’t rollout in a an area due to this charge, they make very clear to potential customers why they can’t get the service and who is to blame, let the LA feel the heat.

    1. Taskmaster says:

      Nothing to do with the LA’s if the telecoms companies can’t properly plan works, coordinate (internally) and complete works without hashing things up (not talking all the time but some are pretty consistent).

      Every utility knows about how the street works systems work, the timeframes needed to plan in works of certain timeframes, or traffic management requirements, much of this hasn’t changed for a number of years. Street Manager, which the DfT introduced in July 2020 has changed some aspects but all involved parties have had years to get used to what was coming.

      Right now, telecoms companies are blitzing through highways and I have first hand experience of many of them leaving chaos behind them. We are talking about thousands of highway defects, and the organisations will use every excuse in the book to get out of doing remedials works as it’s not profitable for them as the contractors aren’t installing new fibre. One particular organisation even denied that they were involved in civil works (they are the primary promotor and directly responsible for any contractor working under their organisation).

    2. Taskmaster says:

      Forgot to add that just as much as some people want everything installed yesterday, the same people are also first to shout and scream when they have to wait 5 minutes at road works when they are going somewhere.

      The general public are fickle people and no matter how much you deal with them, they always find a way to complain about any works, regardless of how it might improve things for them.

  3. Ethel Prunehat says:

    Not sure why there should be a free pass for disrupting footpaths.

    1. CarlT says:

      Disruption of footpaths doesn’t usually cause traffic jams with the resultant increases in costs of many kinds.

  4. A_Builder says:

    You just have to look at the gouging charges for skip permits and bay suspensions in London to understand how any kind of construction activity is see as a milch cow by LA’s.

    There is a view that I have heard expressed that given how big the cash flow is they might as well have a bit of it.

    1. Taskmaster says:

      Fees or charges aren’t there to make profits. Permit or Lane Rental schemes are there to reduce congestion, get organisations to carry out works in a different way so as to reduce impacts.

    2. NE555 says:

      > Fees or charges aren’t there to make profits

      It would be interesting to see how the LA administered the scheme if they weren’t allowed to keep the money raised.

    3. Badem says:

      @Taskmaster

      I personally looked at an installation route we planned out and we needed to install the network into a dead end road, it was only used for residents to park on, no through traffic of any kind.
      Due to the surface the council installed (brick) we had to increase the planned time on site to install, the works in total to install the network to the boundary of 10 houses, which involved removing brick by hand, dig, installs, reinstatement would take about 6 days to complete. The charges from the LA were 2.5k Per day meaning the build became economically unviable to install.

    4. Taskmaster says:

      @NE555 – You can get details of the schemes that LA’s run.

      @Badem – I find it hard to believe, not that I am saying you’re lying, that a LA would charge £2500 per day to work in a cul-de-sac. I would be interested to know which LA area you’re talking about and IF the works were also on a Lane Rental route, not just in the cul-de-sac.
      One LA HA I know of would charge no fees, no permit fees or lane rental, for works solely in a cul-de-sac as it’s of no impact to the main roads that are the focus of such schemes. Yes the construction of the highway will affect the build time, but this is not the LA’s fault as such, just something that all utilities or contractors need to take into account when planning works. It’s a case of finding a balance between works getting done, without costing the earth, and unnecessary disruption. Unfortunately not all contractors care, and some LA’s will be overly strict/by the book, but not everyone is like that.

    5. A_Builder says:

      “ Fees or charges aren’t there to make profits. Permit or Lane Rental schemes are there to reduce congestion, get organisations to carry out works in a different way so as to reduce impacts”

      Right……have a look at RBKC’s skip permit charges and bay suspension charges and how they escalate for construction works and then tell me that they don’t make a massive profit.

      I agree they are no meant to be a profit centre…..but at those prices with the duration escalator……..

      Very often the Weeze is the policy forces you to suspend a massive number of bays for a long period of time and then forces you to pay an increasingly extortionate amount for the privilege. It is called legalised extortion. Sometimes you couldn’t make up the nonsense policies that drive this rubbish.

    6. Taskmaster says:

      @A_Builder – Parking bay suspensions are different to Lane Rental/Permit Schemes. Either way, ask to get a copy of the RBKC’s parking income and challenge the LA if you believe that they are making a profit from it. The cost of TTRO’s for highway restrictions/suspensions also differs greatly from one LA/HA to another, some of the cost is that the legal teams at the LA/HA are more involved than others and as always, legal costs are far greater than normal staff costs.

      On the other side, if it was cheaper to suspend bays or licence construction apparatus on the highway, then who’s not to say that some companies would just leave things out longer as it was cheaper to do that instead of pay more contractors to complete works faster.

  5. Blackfriar says:

    Further mission creep. LA now asking for permits to open an Openreach chamber for PIA route-proving and cable installation. I bet Openreach don’t have to submit permits to open their own chamber lids.

    1. CarlT says:

      Certainly do, depending on circumstances. Nothing new or specific to those using PIA.

    2. CarlT says:

      Promoter Ref:
      BC006-TI003NE500294998605
      Leeds Council Ref:
      948034
      Works Type:
      MINOR
      Works Status:
      WORKS CLOSED NOX
      Description:
      Splicing works only. This is essential works under the government guidelines of essential works to make fibre available to the public
      Start Date:
      17/04/2020
      End Date:
      22/04/2020
      Inspection Units:
      1 (ACTUAL)

      14/04/2020 15:50 THREE DAY PROPOSED WORKS 17/04/2020 21/04/2020 MINOR 1 14/04/2020 15:18 BT
      15/04/2020 09:14 GRANT PERMIT PROPOSED WORKS 17/04/2020 21/04/2020 MINOR 1 15/04/2020 09:20 Leeds City Council Permit Authority

    3. Taskmaster says:

      As CarlT confirms, this is not new, this is existing Street Works requirements for any utility that is carry out work in the public highway. Before permitting it was noticing but the principle is the same to allow for coordination of works on the public highway.

      If you have been using One.Network (or roadworks.org as it was previously known as) then you’ve probably noticed the lack of works descriptions on there since the end of February. This is pretty much as the telecoms firms have twisted the DfT’s arm to hide this information so as competitors don’t know what works are being done in fibre rollouts. It’s not gone down well with a lot of the LA’s as this was a source of information to the public to know what works were going on where and now that is pretty much gone.

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