Frequently asked questions about utility companies and their road works

Working with the utility companies

As the Highways Authority for Surrey, we work closely with utility companies who supply power, water and telecoms to our communities. Regular meetings are held with each utility company to review their performance and discuss any issues.

Everyone who wants to carry out activities on Surrey's roads must apply through the Surrey County Council Permit Scheme. This ensures a fair, regulated and co-ordinated approach that minimises disruption.

Under The Traffic Management Act 2004, Surrey County Council cannot prioritise our own works over those of the utility companies.

Reinstating roads, footways and verges

After utility companies complete their works, it is vital they reinstate roads, footways and verges properly to keep our residents safe.

The Reinstatement of Openings in the Highway (SROH) is the national statutory code mandated by the Department for Transport (DFT) under Section 71 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (NRSWA).

The SROH outlines approved materials, expected standards of workmanship and levels of performance. Utility companies must follow this code so their work is safe and long-lasting.

The code applies to both interim and permanent reinstatements, both during the works and throughout the relevant guarantee period. There is no legal requirement for utility companies to go beyond these specifications.

A 'temporary tarmac' may be used for up to six months. This solution helps us keep the roads open and allows the utility companies to carry out their necessary works in an efficient way.

Utility companies do not have to reinstate the full width of a road or footway. In fact, reinstating only the area that is dug up is quicker and less disruptive. However, our Streetworks team may sometimes request an enhanced reinstatement, for example across the full width of a recently resurfaced road after emergency works have been completed.

Although there is no legal requirement for the utility companies to comply, agreements are often reached through the working relationships we have built over time.

Reinstatement after major resurfacing works

If we're planning major resurfacing works, we can issue a notice to restrict utility companies digging up roads and reinstating them for a timescale of typically two years. However, emergency works and new customer connections are excluded from this period of restriction.


In most cases, the guarantee period for reinstatements is two years. During this time, utility companies are responsible for any repairs or maintenance required due to issues with their reinstatement work.

If the reinstatement is deeper than 1.5 metres or if it has a concrete surface, the guarantee period is extended to three years. Deeper excavations and concrete surfaces are generally considered to be more complex and require a longer guarantee period to ensure the quality and longevity of the reinstatement.

Once the guarantee period expires, the responsibility for any future repairs or maintenance shifts to the Highway Authority. Surrey County Council is the Highway Authority for Surrey.


The New Roads and Streetworks Act 1991 allows Highway Authorities to conduct a specific number of inspections on utility companies' reinstatement works. For each of these inspections, regardless of the outcome, the Highway Authority can charge a fee of £50.

These inspections occur at different stages including during the works, within six months of completion, and within three months before the end of the guarantee period.

Surrey County Council officers may also visit sites at any time in response to reports about substandard workmanship. They carry out thousands of these inspections each year to make sure all works meet the highest standards.

If the work is not up to standard

We use the Department for Transport's 'Street Manager' IT system to record any defective reinstatements which sends an alert to the utility company involved. They have 27 days to fix the problem but can request more time to avoid work 'clashes'. A further inspection is then carried out.

If these timings are not met, our senior officers raise it with senior managers at the utility company. If a resolution is not found, we use our own contractors to complete the works and charge the utility company.

If a utility company consistently fails to meet the required standards, additional rechargeable inspections may be conducted, accompanied by an intensified escalation and discussion process.

Frequent performance assessment meetings will be held until the inspection results demonstrate acceptable levels of conformity. The utility company will be expected to develop an action plan outlining how they will improve their practices.


There is no specific legislation in place to impose fines on utility companies solely for poor reinstatement quality. Whilst not a 'fine' we raise charges to recover officer time spent inspecting reinstatements that do not meet standards.

In extreme cases where a defective reinstatement poses an immediate danger to individuals or damage to property, the Highway Authority can prosecute the utility company under Section 71 of the New Roads and Street Works Act (NRSWA).

Any fines imposed by the courts are returned to central government, rather than to Surrey County Council, and contribute to the overall operation of the court system.

Other circumstances where we can fine utility companies

Where a permit to work is granted and there is a breach of the conditions placed upon the permit, the penalty amount is set at £120 (£80 if paid early). If a utility company conducts work without a permit, the fine is £500 (£300 if paid early). If the utility company's works continue beyond the permit end date and no additional time-period is granted, a daily charge is imposed.

The daily charge varies according to the works' type and the status of the road, and serves as a deterrent to prevent over-running works and ensure compliance with permit regulations. Charges applied here could be up to several thousand pounds. For more information, see our Surrey County Council Permit Scheme web page.

Why are there sometimes no operatives on site?

While it may appear that there is no one working on site. There can be many reasons for this. Most commonly, it is due to hand overs between teams with differing specialisms. Operatives will undertake different parts of the same job, for example, excavate the hole, install new apparatus, or repair existing equipment, refill the hole, and then tarmac the area. It will also most likely be a separate specialist contractor who supplies any form of traffic management needed such as temporary traffic signals.

Other reasons why a site might appear 'un-manned' may include the need for highway surface materials to cure before the surface can be reopened to traffic use. This is especially relevant when concrete has been used in any reinstatement.

Where emergency gas leaks are being repaired, it may be necessary for a works site to be left unmanned whilst gas is safely vented into the atmosphere from open excavations prior to determining the exact location of the leak and undertaking necessary repairs.

Damage to grassed areas

If the utility company damages grass areas near their works, even if they haven't directly dug up those areas, we can ask them to repair the damage. But we need to gather evidence to show the damage was caused by the works, such as documents, photos or other supporting material.

By holding utility companies responsible for repairing any damage they cause, including non-excavation-related damage to grass areas, Surrey County Council ensures that the landscaping of the area is restored to an acceptable condition.

Emergency works

In the event of an emergency, or a situation where they decide unplanned works must be started immediately such as a burst water main or gas leak, or loss of supplies to premises (including telecommunications), utility companies can notify as late as two hours after work starts.

A permit is still required but can't be refused. It can be a challenge to co-ordinate these unplanned works around other works already underway.

Surrey officers may allow more time for emergency works where this enables a replacement of a section of utility apparatus instead of just a repair. This will reduce the need for future visits to the same location.

In case of gas leaks, after consulting with the gas company, Streetworks officers may agree that while the carriageway is open for one repair, specialist teams could be brought in to spray the inside of adjacent gas main sections. This would seal other leaking lead yarn main joints in the vicinity, making use of the existing excavation and negating the need for new excavations nearby in the future.

Although this approach may prolong the ongoing work by a few days, it ultimately reduces the frequency of future return visits.

What we are doing to minimise disruption from unplanned works

Surrey officers and councillors continue to lobby the Department for Transport to amend current legislation to better reflect that not all 'immediate' activities are dealt with as soon as a problem is identified by the utility company. If some of these works were discussed in advance, we could plan and co-ordinate them better.

However, we do still place appropriate conditions on the permits granted for emergency or 'immediate' works to minimise disruption. They are inspected in the same way as other works.

Safety considerations

The legal obligations regarding safety measures during streetworks and roadworks on Surrey's roads are outlined in the statutory code Safety at Street Works and Roadworks: A Code of Practice, New Roads and Streetworks Act, 1991.

This code specifies the requirements for traffic and pedestrian management, signing and guarding at works carried out on the highway. More on this can be found in the Traffic Signs Manual.

Fibre, broadband and mobile operators

The volume of work by fibre companies looks set to continue for several years, so we have recruited a Streetworks officer to focus exclusively on fibre infrastructure.

Surrey County Council cannot influence where, when and how fibre and mobile operators site their commercial networks. The permits we grant to them relate only to the co-ordination of works and do not indicate any type of planning approval regarding the installation of cables, cabinets, poles or masts.

The Electronic Communications Code sets out rights in Schedule 3A of the Communications Act 2003 that are designed to facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks on, under and over ground.

Siting of cabinets, poles and masts

Almost all fibre and mobile network operators have obtained 'Code operator' status, which subjects them to various conditions and restrictions including an obligation to comply with either the 'Code of Practice concerning the siting of cabinets and poles' or the 'Code of Practice for Wireless Development'.

Most cabinets, poles and masts up to 30 metres do not require full planning approval, as they are deployed using Permitted Development rights under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

The operators only need to notify the local planning authority about their plans prior to the infrastructure being installed. This means there is little or no opportunity for the local planning authority, residents and businesses to engage in this process. Across Surrey, it is the districts and boroughs who are the local planning authority.

Damage to utility company equipment

The responsibility for repairing or replacing frames, covers, chambers, and above-ground boxes lies with the owner of the equipment, whether it is the Highway Authority or a utility company.

When we find out about damage to this equipment, we will identify the owner and report the issue to them. If there is an immediate threat to safety, we will make the location safe before we report it.

If you know who owns the equipment, you can contact the utility companies to report it.

There is no legislation covering the required speed or response time for utility companies to deal with these reports. Surrey County Council does not possess any enforcement powers over utility companies if they think their response is too slow or inadequate.

In such cases, the resolution of the reported issues is dependent on the cooperation and responsiveness of the utility companies involved. Surrey County Council can raise the matter with them but does not have direct control over the companies' actions or the ability to enforce a specific timeframe for repairs or replacements.

More information

For advice and information, contact us at Tell us about a highway issue - Surrey County Council (

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