Transport Talk column with Don Mackenzie
Major road works are currently taking place in and around Harrogate. These are being carried out by developers as part of agreed highways plans for the development, and by utility companies under their statutory right to excavate the highway to reach, repair and replace their equipment.
As residents know only too well, for several months developers have been working on the highway at two main entrances to the town.
First, the A59 Skipton Road opposite the Jenny Fields estate close to the junctions with Crowberry Drive and Norwich Drive.
This work is being carried out to widen the road, construct new footpaths, and create a new junction for the housing development on farmland on the north side of the A59.
The scheme has caused minimal disruption to traffic flows, but there has been temporary loss of footpaths and a bus stop. There will be traffic lights in operation outside of peak times from the beginning of February until completion of the work on Friday, February 17.
Second, on the A61 at the other end of town, a new roundabout to give access to a new care home and housing on the former Dunlopillo site has been completed on Leeds Road south of Pannal.
The contractor was able to carry out most of the work away from the highway and traffic disruption was again kept to a minimum.
In each case, the contractor worked closely with NYCC highways officers to ensure that traffic management was effective, efficient and safe.
I turn now to highways works carried out by utility companies, including electricity, gas, water, telephone and cable.
It is perfectly understandable that they need to have access to their equipment so that customers continue to receive the service.
Excavations of the highway may be planned in advance or at short notice in an emergency.
Either way, the company needs to notify NYCC as the highways authority to agree timings and traffic management arrangements.
Whilst the county council cannot stop the work going ahead, we can and do demand certain conditions.
For example, we have known for a few weeks that Northern Gas Networks needed urgently to renew their 14-inch gas main on Station Parade and along Albert Street to West Park, which was at risk of failure.
The traffic management arrangements were agreed, as were the hours of working (extended daytime hours, seven days a week), and duration (10 to 14 days for Station Parade and three to four weeks for Albert Street).
It is not ideal, but it is essential work, and I believe that most of us are prepared to accept the disruption it causes, even when it involves full or partial closure of a major town centre road.
We are less likely to accept traffic jams when a utility company has erected barriers and traffic lights, and yet no work seems to be taking place.
Drivers also complain that closures seem to remain in place long after work has finished. The county council does monitor this very closely but there will certainly be occasions when the highway could be cleared much more quickly.
To give utility companies an incentive to reduce the duration of works to a minimum, we are giving urgent consideration to introducing a permit scheme to replace the current arrangement of notification only.
Under such a scheme the company must apply and pay for a permit to work on the highway. Benefits include greater control over the timing and extent of the road closure. Failure to obtain a permit could lead to a substantial fine, and there would be penalties for exceeding the agreed closure period.
Experience elsewhere provides very strong evidence that permit schemes substantially reduce closure times and disruption to the travelling public.
Details of all road works in and around Harrogate can be found on the NYCC interactive street map using this link: http://www.northyorks.gov.uk/article/25124/Roads---roadworks