By Paul Wilkins
Did you ever hear the one about the snail who was found in a bottle of ginger beer? No, don't worry if you haven’t heard of it as I hadn’t either and what on earth could this have to do with street works?
I once asked myself a question “Who really cares about the condition of our streets after road works has occurred?” Would the majority of passers-by take time to consider the standard of workmanship on Her Majesty’s highway? Probably not as the toils of daily life dictates far more important things.
Being custodians of the highway it is up to us to look after the arteries of this great nation and keep it in good health and spirit. For a healthy road network will provide benefits for us all whether we own a business, require services or simply need to travel.
Unfortunately we all appreciate that things do go wrong from time to time regardless of how much effort has been put in to getting it right. However, where such effort has proved to have packed up and deserted it is us custodians that are obliged to encourage change. Encouragement may have many guises but only one aim. Improvement! When the spirit of co-operation is not around we have used our bus pass to the magistrate’s court.
Over these past few years at Enfield I have been involved in over 250 NRSWA and TMA prosecutions with various statutory utility companies and it is probably fair to say that at times our working relationships have been considered, challenging, strained, uncomfortable, time consuming and dare I say quite costly for all involved.
Our cases have involved the general things we are all familiar with such as:
- Unacceptable reinstatements
- Wrong materials used
- Dangerous work sites
- Compaction of unbound materials
- CDM regulations around street works sites once a permit has been granted
- Failed cores
- Temporary paint not being removed following works
- Reasonableness of recharge cost
- The legalities of issuing daily FPNs
- What is working without a permit in law?
Working alongside solicitors and barristers it eventually dawned on me how much experience we had picked up from the legal professionals and how much we was contributing to the process by producing evidence packs which included statements and advice in order to form considered arguments.
With increasing work pressures being placed on our in house legal team and with Enfield’s commitment to make efficiencies to protect front line services we explored the option to cease with both internal and external solicitors and barristers and completely bring the functionality directly to our Street Works team. Obviously there are risks which need to be considered but there is also an opportunity to eliminate duplication and make real savings.
Section 20(b) of The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 along with both The Local Government Act 1972, section 223 ( appearance of local authorities in legal proceedings) and The County Court Act 1984 section 60 make the provisions for our team to take this approach.
Once we had the support of the senior management team we decided to give it a go. I was fortunate to be included on some training that was given to our legal team and shadowed our solicitors in court to understand the protocols. Now I am not talking Rumple of the Bailey here, just some basic understanding that anyone could do.
I soon found out about that snail I mentioned, where somehow a dead one ended up in a bottle of ginger beer. It was the case “Donoghue v Stevenson’’ in 1932 which started off as an apparent straight forward issue where a lady had received a bottle of drink from a friend only to find out after drinking it that there was a dead snail lurking inside which unfortunately made her ill. The lady decided to sue the company which had produced the drink and the company defended on the grounds that it had no contract with the claimant as it was not purchased by her. The case finally ended up in the House of Lords. This so much reminded me of our past disagreements with utility companies where seemingly straight forward issues can escalate out of control. I also thought that we were kindred to the practice of looking up relative sections within codes and legislation and somewhat rehearsed in the art of advocacy.
In the beginning the communication between the defendants’ solicitors’ and us was a little tricky as I had made a conscience decision to agree adjournment applications if only absolutely necessary. I simply just wanted to get the hearings completed as soon as possible and we aimed for a period from start to finish of around 6 weeks. As for the barristers I stand up against in court, to my surprise they are jolly nice helpful fellows. I do reserve judgement however on the chap who asked me to order whatever I liked in a plush café opposite Tottenham Magistrates Court one Thursday morning only to discover, that after we had finished he had forgotten his wallet! I will never look at a full English in the same light again!
Summing up I need to believe that we do this work for the greater good and will continue to endeavourer to harmonise the marriage of that quintessential caped crusader ‘common sense’ and the land of ‘getting it right’. Hopefully our efforts have led to some small change that just might influence the future behaviour of highway authorities, utility companies (and snails).
Paul Wilkins is the Principal Street Works Officer at the London Borough of Enfield.