Heavy fine handed to utility firm

A gas company has been handed a significant fine after being found guilty of seven offences relating to work carried on a road last year.

Somerset County Council is responsible for managing the road network and prosecuted Wales and West Utilities as part of its commitment to minimising disruption and keeping the public safe.

The case, heard at North Somerset Magistrates on Wednesday 14 April, was:

Loveridge Lane, in Tatworth near Chard

Wales & West Utilities Limited was found guilty of seven offences, which includes:

  • Misleading Somerset County Council in failing to use its best endeavours under s.60(3) to apply for a legal road closure in order to carry out its street works when the permit expressly stated a road closure was necessary.
  • Falsely notified Somerset County Council of a fictional gas leak at a separate location on the street in order to be eligible to apply for an Immediate (Emergency) Works permit and start the proposed works earlier.
  • Failing to adequately sign, light and guard a work site, contrary to Section 65 of The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.
  • Carrying out street works without a valid permit, contrary to regulation 19 of the Traffic Management Permit Scheme (England) Regulations 2007.
  • Failure to notify the street authority of a completed reinstatement and the placing of apparatus in the street, contrary to s.70(4A) and s.79(4) of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, respectively.
  • Failure to use its best endeavours to cooperate with the street authority by registering a reinstatement at another location, separate from where the works were carried out.

These offences took place at Loveridge Lane, in Tatworth on 15 October 2021.

The fines against Wales & West Utilities Limited totalled £17,000.00 with costs of £4,895.25 and a surcharge of £190.00 awarded against them.

In summing up the judge noted the early guilty pleas, they stated that the company used deceptive tactics in order to circumvent its duties and obligations under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, the statutory framework that has been enacted to ensure safe street works are conducted around the nation under the supervision of local street authorities, and a message needed to be sent to the public that the law will not stand for this type of conduct.

The court gave full credit for the early guilty pleas and took account of the previous good record of the company in carrying out 10,000 street works in the country and the fact that the company have since held extremely serious talks as to its conduct and provided extra training to its employees.

Interim Economic and Community Infrastructure Deputy Director at Somerset County Council, David Carter, said: “We welcome the District Judge’s ruling. This case demonstrates the importance of procedure and process and when ignored can lead to unnecessary disruption on our roads.

“Without knowledge of street works being carried out, we are unable to ensure emergency services can be diverted and there is no statutory guarantee period in having to remedy any defects – which leaves the Council having to step in at the expense of taxpayers’ money. We cannot let this happen without consequences.”

Details of approved roadworks can be found on our searchable map at www.travelsomerset.co.uk/roadworks. If anyone is concerned about roadworks they can flag this up to the team by contacting @TravelSomerset on Twitter and Facebook.