City streetworks vital for business success

Stuart Fraser
ANYBODY who has ventured out onto the Square Mile’s streets knows the City’s microclimate – shaped by a so-called urban heat island effect – has not escaped the Arctic winter.

The freezing weather has caused transport misery for people up and down the country and unfortunately, at the risk of stating the obvious, the weather is beyond our control.

We have worked hard to clear the snow, but sub-zero temperatures increase the likelihood of pipes bursting. This increases the need for additional streetworks on top of what is happening, adding further to the public’s frustration when trying to navigate our City roads.

We are liaising with the other agencies to minimise disruption but solving the underlying issues in a place like the City, which combines ancient street design with modern infrastructure needs, is far from simple.

International finance firms demand that we keep pace with technological change and want the best available services – from internet networks to basic utilities. So, sadly, digging up the road is part of keeping the City globally competitive, particularly when the emerging financial centres in Asia build in technological excellence from the very beginning.

If we fail to keep up then we will lose our competitive edge, and our increasingly globalised businesses.

For example, more than a third of all streetworks relate to telecoms and this reflects the choice and competitiveness of the myriad of providers, each offering a better service deal than the next, and all entitled to dig up the road to make sure your firm gets it.

We try to get gas, water, electricity and telecoms to work together but it’s hard to do, not least because working on water and electricity or gas at the same time is not safe practice.

In just the 11 months from January to the end of November, 5,346 permits were granted for the City’s 53 kilometres of streets, some 100 per kilometre, or one every 10 metres if none of them overlapped (which they often do). More than three thousand were from utility companies, with the rest for fixing the street or improving the public realm.

So it really is a spaghetti nightmare under our feet.

It is clear more forward planning and information are needed. We are working on a new real-time GPS mapping system to improve coordination, but there will always be emergency works that cannot be planned for.

Both utilities and the City have to do better at planning works, but street works are for the long-term benefit of local businesses and residents. We can’t maintain a world-class business environment by standing still, even if the disruption caused is frustrating.

Stuart Fraser is policy chairman at the City of London Corporation