An introduction to road openings by utility companies

The processes around utility companies carrying out street works in order to supply services to their customers. Anyone wishing to carry out street works who does not have a statutory right to do so, must apply to DfI Roads for a Street Works Licence.

What are street works?

Works executed in a street to place apparatus, inspect, maintain, adjust, repair, alter or renew apparatus, change the position of apparatus or remove it, or works required for or incidental to any such works (including, in particular, breaking up or opening the street, or any sewer, drain or tunnel under it, or tunnelling or boring under the street) are known as street works. 

Most street works are carried out by utility companies which have statutory rights to place and maintain their apparatus in order to supply services to their customers. Anyone wishing to carry out street works who does not have a statutory right to do so, must apply to DfI Roads for a Street Works Licence.

DfI Roads, as the highway authority for Northern Ireland, has certain duties and powers to co-ordinate and control street works.

The role of DfI Roads

DfI Roads has a duty to use its best endeavours to co-ordinate the execution of works of all kinds (including works for road purposes) in the streets for which it is responsible:

  • in the interests of safety
  • to minimise the inconvenience to persons using the street (having regard, in particular, to the needs of people with a disability)
  • to protect the structure of the street and the integrity of apparatus in it

In discharging its general duty of co-ordination DfI Roads must have regard to codes of practice approved by the Department.

DfI Roads have powers to inspect works in progress to ensure the works are being carried out in a safe manner, to give direction where appropriate as to the timing of street works in order to minimise the inconvenience to persons using the street, and to inspect completed reinstatements and place restrictions on works following substantial road works in order to protect the structure of the street. DfI Roads may also take prosecutions against street works undertakers who commit offences by failing to comply with the requirements of the street works legislation.

The role of the street works undertaker

Those undertaking street works, normally utility companies, have a duty to co-operate with DfI Roads and with other street works undertakers.

Compliance with the codes of practice approved by the Department is considered to be evidence that a street works undertaker is meeting its duty to co-operate. The codes of practice mean that the undertaker is responsible for providing adequate notice of their proposed works, carrying out the works in accordance with the code of practice on safety at street works, completing the reinstatement to the specified standard and recording the position of their underground apparatus. The undertaker is also required to provide notice of the status of works in progress, and remains responsible for reinstatements for a warranty period, normally 2 years.

In the event that major works are planned, the street works undertaker is required to give advance information and warning to affected frontagers (businesses and households) if their service or access is to be affected for any length of time. This also helps ensure that the public is aware of who is responsible for the works. In addition, the Safety at Street Works and Road Works code of practice requires an information board to be displayed on every site. The information board must give the name of the street works undertaker and a telephone number which can be contacted in emergencies.

Complaints procedure

In the event that you have a complaint about a specific set of street works, you should contact the number on the information board displayed on site. In the event that your complaint is not resolved, or in the absence of an information board, you should contact the local DfI Roads Section Office through the Divisional contact numbers provided on the Street Works information leaflet.

Utility company performance

DfI Roads carries out statutory inspections of a random sample of road openings by utilities at the following stages:

Category A - inspection of 10% of works in progress which includes inspection of signing, lighting and guarding of the works

Category B - inspection of 10% of reinstated openings within 6 months after completion

Category C - inspection of 10% of reinstated openings within the 3 months before the end of the warranty period

Utility company results

The results for the main utility companies during 2018/19 are as follows:

Utility company performance - 2018/19
Utility company Category A Inspected Category A Pass Rate Category B Inspected Category B Pass Rate Category C Inspected Category C Pass Rate
BT 256 92.6% 323 96.0% 323 97.0%
Firmus Energy 525 99.6% 313 97.2% 317 98.7%
NIE 602 97.0% 397 93.5% 393 97.7%
NI Water 1,174 94.5% 2,419 95.1% 2,382 100%
Phoenix Natural Gas 708 99.2% 732 97.8% 715 98.6%
Virgin Media 174 96.5% 208 96.6% 203 97.0%

 

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