Comment: Maximise fines for transgressors

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Hard on the heels of concerns over slashed council budgets for road works comes fresh controversy on an all-too familiar problem: sub-standard work by companies on repairs to road surfaces.

For a city that devotes so much time and effort debating the aesthetics of our public buildings and the requirements of World Heritage status on the architectural merits of building work, it’s remarkable that little such concern is applied to the state of our roads. And this is often the most visible bugbear bemoaned by both visitors and residents alike.

Edinburgh’s roads are constantly scarred and pockmarked by innumerable operations undertaken by the giant utilities – electricity, gas, water – and now broadband installation.

All of these works are vital to the smooth and efficient working of the city. But no sooner has one area been dug up than another utility comes along to point its pneumatic drills on almost exactly the same patch. The city council exhorts the utilities to leave the streets in good repair. But many firms fail to do this. And the fines for poor or shoddy road repair are paltry: they are little sanction against sub-standard and unsightly workmanship.

Recent research has found more than 1000 “botched” road repairs caused by just five utility firms are waiting to be fixed across the city. The figure has climbed by 200 since the end of the last financial year – itself an all-time record for poor performance. 

Over the first quarter of this financial year, council inspections found utility companies had failed to properly reinstate 1024 sites – almost three times as many as two years ago. Scottish Water, the worst offender, accounted for more than half of these.

The council has now written to the five companies – Scottish Water, SGN, Scottish Power, BT Openreach and Virgin Media – taking them to task for “extremely disappointing” work and seeking a meeting. All five are nearing the end of a three-month “final warning” from the council to prove they can turn themselves around before they are referred to the Scottish Road Works Commissioner.

Edinburgh City Council must back up its rhetoric and ensure all companies are aware of their obligations and to use every power available to name and shame them and maximise the fines for transgressors.