07 December 2011

Getting to the core of utility failures

A coring project in the North West has highlighted utility contractors’ failure to meet national reinstatement specifications for street works, which could be costing highway authorities more than £200m a year.

The Rochdale and Oldham coring programme has confirmed fears held by the Joint Authorities Group (JAG UK) – which represents highway authorities on matters such as street works – about failure rates and associated costs.

The project saw more than half (51%) of core samples taken across the two boroughs fail depth testing, while 86% of these then failed air void testing too.

A report on the project claimed this would cost more than £350,000 in Oldham and Rochdale alone, while across the whole Greater Manchester region, a figure in the region of £3.6m was cited.

The researchers added a conservative estimate of how much these failure rates cost authorities would be well in excess of £200m nationally. A senior source said: ‘The results prove the theory about price being the most important factor – not quality. Utilities need to invest in training and skills as the cost of this would be far lower than the cost of such high failure rates.’

Jerry McConkey, director of JAG UK, told Surveyor: ‘We had been concerned for some time about the performance of utilities and their contractors with regard to compliance with the national reinstatement specification.’

The Rochdale and Oldham programme showed a substantial number of works failed to meet the required standard, he added. ‘This poor performance is placing further strain on the fabric of the highway structure which the long term damage study has proven is costing every highway authority dearly.’

JAG UK believes poor performance is reflected across the UK and has called on industry regulators to take poor performance into account when judging utilities’ work.

‘Recent suggestions indicate there is more drive towards rewarding poor performance and penalising the public, and this is another indication of the true drivers in this industry,’ Mr McConkey said.

Work is now under way to extend the coring programme across the North West. Highways teams within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities are currently investigating works carried out in the past two years.

John Webb, chair of the North West Joint Utilities Group, said: ‘The utilities in the North West take the alleged failures very seriously and will be working with the Manchester authorities to understand the root cause of any failures, any necessary remediation, and appropriate training going forward.’

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