Utility co dishonest over Chard works?
Wales & West Utilities Limited has been fined £17,000 at North Somerset Magistrates Court. The company pleaded guilty to seven offences. These included falsely notifying Somerset County Council (SCC) of a fictional gas leak at a separate location on the street. The company admitted doing this in order to apply for an Immediate (Emergency) Works permit. This allowed them to start works in the area earlier. The works in question related to Loveridge Lane, in Tatworth near Chard in October 2021. If registering a fictional gas leak to was not enough, the utility company also admitted:
- Failing to adequately sign, light and guard a work site
- Carrying out street works without a valid permit.
- Failure to notify the street authority (SCC) of a completed reinstatement and the placing of apparatus in the street.
- Failure to use its best endeavours to cooperate with the street authority (ie SCC).
- Misleading Somerset County Council in failing 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.
The press release issued today from SCC is very matter of fact. It must surely be rare for a utility company to be found guilty of such egregious acts. It leaves an open question. If this company was caught, how many similar fictions are being created and the company gets away with it?
It also raises a question of trust. If a utility company is prepared to create a fictional gas leak, how can we trust them again? How will we know if they tell us there is a gas leak – if it is real or not. It is a question that goes to the heart of public safety.
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 as well.
In summing up the judge noted the early guilty pleas. Nevertheless the judge stated that the company used deceptive tactics in order to circumvent its duties and obligations under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.
It does to these eyes call into question if the company can be trusted with any responsibility for any part of the public infrastructure.