Firms accused of leaving record number of botched road repairs

The rise was branded 'completely unacceptable'. Picture: Joey Kelly
The rise was branded 'completely unacceptable'. Picture: Joey Kelly
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A specialist firm tasked with transforming the Capital into a ‘Gigabit City’ has been accused of leaving a trail of destruction by botching hundreds of road repairs.

The number of failed attempts to reinstate roads dug up for works has reached record levels – prompting fresh calls for utility companies to face harsher penalties.

A total of 1064 outstanding repairs were recorded across the city in the final quarter of 2016 – up 13 per cent from 941 in the previous three months.

Network specialist CityFibre – which is responsible for rolling out ultra-fast internet speeds across the Capital – was branded the worst offender, with the number of botched works blamed on the firm soaring by 49 per cent to 286.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western, said it was clear outstanding roadworks were a “huge” problem across the Capital.

He said: “Contractors clearly don’t take their responsibilities to communities seriously and we need to do more to make sure they deliver quality improvements and reinstate roads to a high standard.”

Outstanding roadworks under OpenReach, SP Energy Networks and VirginMedia also rose during the October to December period, while those under SGN and Scottish Water went down.

Nick Cook, Tory transport spokesman on the council, said the figures would be “no surprise” to residents.

He added: “Edinburgh taxpayers are rightly fed up with the poor performance of public utility companies in this area, with the volume and poor quality of road works a growing concern.

“While I acknowledge the council has made efforts to hold the utility companies to account, it is clear, after five years, that their efforts have failed.”

In February, the News told how more than half of the Capital’s public utility companies – Virgin Media, Scottish Power, Telefonica and Openreach – had refused to sign up to a “responsible roadworks” pledge spearheaded by the council.

The Scottish Road Works Commissioner has the power to dish out fines of up to £50,000 for shoddy repairs – but rarely bares its teeth. Meanwhile, the city council can only issue £120 fixed penalty notices.

Transport and environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds said the firms’ poor, and in some cases worsening, performance was “completely unacceptable”.

She said: “As a council, we have taken every measure we can to encourage the companies to make improvements, including gaining support from a number of organisations for our Edinburgh Road Works Ahead Agreement, but clearly much more needs to be done.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s focus on this as part of their Review of the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and we have contributed in terms of our frustration with the situation here in the Capital.

“I think unless and until there’s stronger legislation and more hefty fines as a deterrent, it’s going to be hard to make much difference on this.”

Scott Raine, head of field services at CityFibre, said: “CityFibre takes its commitment to the responsible roadworks pledge extremely seriously and we were disappointed at the substantial increase in defective reinstatements during the 2016 reporting period.

“During this time the construction effort reached its height, rolling out over 150km of new full fibre infrastructure across the city. This was an enormous undertaking, delivered in just 12 months to avoid prolonging any disruption to local services and citizens.

“It became clear however that our contractors were unable to maintain the standards we expect of them.”

He added: “We have been working closely with the Scottish Roadworks Commissioner, City of Edinburgh Council and our contractors to deliver significant improvements, and have shared our plans with them.

“This is already seeing results with a 91 per cent pass rate recorded for Category A inspections in the first quarter of this year.

“We will continue to deliver further improvements while construction progresses on Edinburgh’s Gigabit City network, providing local schools, services and businesses with the best digital connectivity in the world.”

Those who signed up to the council’s roadworks pledge made a public commitment to ensuring their works were carried out as smoothly and responsibly as possible.

This includes the provision of appropriate public noticeboards at roadworks sites to communicate details about the projects, for example updates as to duration or temporary suspension.

A spokesman for Scottish Water, one of those which signed up, said: “Scottish Water endeavour to make sure all work we carry out, or work that is carried out on our behalf by contractors or Alliance Partners, is done to the highest possible standards.

“Whether it is in Edinburgh or across any other part of Scotland we try to put customers interests first before we carry out any work.

“Recent figures from the council show improvement has been made on this issue and we will continue to strive to ensure this continues in the future.”

In the October to December period, the number of outstanding roadworks under BT subsidiary Openreach surged to 139, an increase of 62 per cent from the previous quarter.

A spokesman said: “Openreach are conducting more civil engineering than we ever have to deliver faster broadband, therefore we have encountered a higher volume of failure.

“Over this period we have transitioned to a new civil engineering contractor and reinstatement quality is a key objective.

“We are 100 per cent committed to delivering quality reinstatements and our outstanding defective reinstatements are already reducing in Q4 2016/17.”