Why do we always have to dig up the road?

Our water pipes are leaking, our gas pipes often need replacing, our telephone cables need expanding and even our electricity wires may need fixing. Each time one of the utilities needs to do such work, they have to dig up the streets.

The government is aware of the frustration this causes. Its own highways legislation asked Councils to limit the time utilities have available to disrupt the streets, and requires them to penalise delayed works. It asked the bodies that often themselves do as much or more as the utilities to impede our progress to work, as Councils themselves have a fascination with rearranging the street furniture and with digging up and reshaping the roads.

Much of the problem could be solved over the longer term is we started to alter the way we arrange our utilities. Every time a builder puts in a new housing estate, a developer puts in a new business park, and every time major roadworks are carried out, it would be possible to alter the way we organise our utilities.

We could create concrete box tunnels under one of the pavements in urban areas, and by the side of the road in rural areas. These box tunnels should be large enough to take the water and sewage pipes, the power cables, telephone cables and the gas mains. No-one would dream of embedding all these features in the walls or concrete floors in new commercial buildings – they are placed in the space between floor and ceiling, and in the basement, allowing easy access to mend or improve. These new box tunnels should allow entrance to workmen to fix or change, without needing to dig up the road, and usually without even having to disrupt the pavement.

There would be more cost at the time the facilities were put in, but huge savings in time and effort subsequently. It is madness that we sit and watch as our roads are regularly wrecked, often just after they have been resurfaced at public expense, because the main utilities run down the middle of the road and are buried in the soil and hardcore.

This government’s policies have meant much reduced flows and capacity on many of our roads through traffic mismanagement schemes. They have created extra congestion and pollution by all red phases on traffic lights, by chicanes, lane removal and artificial narrowing. The very least they could do to help the flows and the busy commuters would be to start to cut the number of times the precious highway has to be coned off and dug up.

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6 Comments

  1. Patrick
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Off topic – but please, please will you ask Cameron to sack Conway today and also demand that his constituency deselect him. The public is so deeply fed up with 'snout in the trough' politicians – mostly Labour. This is a once in a lifetine opportunity to put clear space between the parties.

    If Conway is tolerated or the issue downplayed it will mean no Tory can ever again have a go at Labour on sleaze.

    (para removed as potentially libellous)

    Cameron must get brutal with his own party. That would be a huge vote winner.

    Reply: David Cameron has removed the Whip. Everyone accused should have the right in our country to put their defence and to be treated justly. Mr Conway has decided not to stand again.

  2. Cliff
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Amen!! John you are spot on….I have often thought that it would be a good thing to have a service tunnel (If that is not too grand a term) running alongside roads. I suspect that putting it in when the new road is being constructed would add very little to the cost, especially if it was of a standard specification (Oh no do I hear the birth of a new quango…The roadside service tunnel commission)
    Perhaps as existing roads are dug up, the service tunnel could be installed, expensive? Yes, Longer initial delays? Yes, but worth it in the end.

    My only worry would be water pipes within the tunnel freezing as they would be in a void rather than the earth. I am sure our technical boffins could solve this one though.
    We would need to construct these tunnels with spare capacity as we know not what the future holds, for example in the last twenty years the growth of cable services may not have been foreseen fifty years ago.

    Failing the above, I think we need better communications and co-ordination between utility companies and local authorities as so often one company finishes and a week later another one starts to dig up the same bit of road. I am thinking Broad Street, Market Place and Denmark Street Wokingham as examples!!

  3. Adrian Windisch
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Interesting idea, unfortunately the last couple of goverments have been privatising utilities, who now wont share facilities, so the idea of forcing them to share a trench is even less likely.

    They wont even talk to each other of the councils as they are so purely profit motivated. Time to nationalise them, they cant even compete so theres no competition so no benefits to privatisation except fot a govt to sell of and make cash, but its at our expense.

  4. Bazman
    Posted February 2, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Charge them to dig up the roads like some companies are charged by the hour to stop traffic in tunnels. Up to

  5. WWUK
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    John,

    It hasn't gone unnoticed – we are working on it but would appreciate some firmer government support and/ or legislation.

  6. John West
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi John, from an idea presented to us, our company is in the process of producing a 'Utilities trench' for just the applications you suggest. Although at an early stage we expect to have it available later this year. I'll keep you posted.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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