Firmus Energy had no plans to extend its network along the Newry Road in Armagh when roadworks were being carried out there last summer.
But customer demand led to a decision for this work to be done and what amounted to back-to-back roadworks schemes being carried out.
Ongoing works at this location had prompted an angry reaction from local motorists over delays and disruption, so much so that they, residents and businesses lobbied individual councillors.
And, as a result, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council wrote to the Department for Infrastructure questioning why roads and utility companies could not schedule such works to run at the same time to minimise disruption.
There have been several schemes carried out at Newry Road over the past number of years in relation to roads, water and gas work.
Now Divisional Roads Manager Simon Richardson has responded to the ABC Council’s concerns in a letter detailing the efforts which are ongoing and the role which the Department of Infrastructure plays.
This includes a body which meets quarterly – called the Northern Ireland Road Authority and Utility Committee – which aims to “promote regular liaison and best practice, maintain a professional relationship leading to improved cooperation between the parties and to discuss issues of mutual interest”.
Locally, there is also a Road Authority and Utility Committee in each of the four DfI Roads operational divisions which meets every six months to discuss works programmes and major schemes, traffic management and proposals and potential for reducing disruption and other shared issues.
Mr Richardson pointed out that utility companies have a “statutory right” to carry out works and “open up roads and footways for the purpose of installing and maintaining their equipment in order to supply services to their customers”.
And he added: “While the Department has no control over the number of these openings, it does have the power, under the Street Works (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, to regulate the process. Under the provision of the Order, utility providers are required to register their intention to carry out street works with the Department for the purpose of coordinating street works in accordance with Codes of Practice agreed between the Department and utility companies.
“Considerable coordination between utilities and DfI Roads takes place on a daily basis. This ensures that opportunities for common schemes are identified and used where possible.
“I understand that when the previous utility works were undertaken last summer on this stretch of the Newry Road, Armagh, Firmus Energy were consulted but they did not have plans at that time to expand their network.
“However, customer demand has resulted in them changing their plans and consequently they have in accordance with the requirements of the street works procedures notified and commenced the necessary infrastructure works to provide gas connections to additional customers in the area.”
The divisional roads manager said while it might be “desirable to have utilities undertake all their planned works to stretches of a public road either either at the same time or shortly after each other, in order to minimise disruption to the network, unfortunately the use of common ‘joined up’ schemes and trench-sharing opportunities by them can be limited for engineering and programming reasons as well as financial restrictions.
“Hence the DfI Roads provides a coordination role aiming to facilitate the statutory rights of the utility providers to place their apparatus within the roads network while minimising the disruption, in so far as is possible, to road users.”