Only one improvement notice has been handed down in the last five years due to the poor quality of roads and footpaths caused by utilities companies carrying out work.
Stormont politicians have frequently voiced the concerns of their constituents over road defects and other issues caused by gas, electric, internet and other companies carrying out repairs and installations.
Companies carrying out these works must notify the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and comply with The Street Works (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 and associated Codes of Practice. It is estimated that, on average, utility firms carry out between 45,000 and 50,000 street works each year.
Responding to a question from Alliance infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said: "My Department monitors statutory undertaker company performance by carrying out sample inspections of reinstatements and signing lighting and guarding of works as set out in the Northern Ireland Road Authority and Utilities Committee (NIRAUC) Code of Practice for Inspections.
"Improvement notices can be issued for any defects identified during sample inspections and this imposes a requirement on the undertaker to submit an improvement plan."
DfI's process for checking work involves three inspection categories. Category A is the inspection of 10% of works in progress which includes inspection of signing, lighting and guarding of the works.
Category B relates to the inspection of 10% of reinstated openings within six months after completion, while Category C is the inspection of 10% of reinstated openings within the three months before the end of the warranty period, which is normally two years.
Ms Mallon added: "Following discussions with my officials on a number of issues, an improvement plan was submitted to the Department by BT (Openreach) in 2020/2021 however this was not prompted by the issuing of an improvement notice. I can also confirm that an improvement notice was issued to Virgin Media in 2019/2020 and that no improvement notices were issued in the three years prior to 2019/2020."
Mr Muir said the current situation "is not good enough".
“I regularly receive correspondence from across North Down regarding the poor quality of roads and footpaths following work by utilities companies," he said.
"It beggars belief that the Department for Infrastructure has handed out only one improvement notice in the past five years. Either the Department is not carrying out enough sample inspections once repair works are completed, or their standards for what is adequate are not high enough.
"Either way, I will be following this up with the Minister to make clear that the current situation is not good enough.”
Issues have not just come to light as a result of work carried out by internet or electric companies, however. Recent figures show that there were 2,676 road repairs over the last three years which were not deemed to have been of an acceptable standard.
DfI figures show that 895 repairs failed inspection in the 2018/19 financial year, followed by 1,024 in 2019/20 and 757 in 2020/21.
According to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office into work carried out on roads by utilities companies back in 2008, DfI’s Roads Service “undertakes large numbers of inspections, as required by the Code [Inspection Code of Practice], but there are several areas where implementation is not strictly in accordance with it.
“For example, the sample distribution across the three separate inspection categories designated in the Code is at variance with the levels suggested. Furthermore, although utilities’ performance statistics are available at operational level, Roads Service is not publishing an annual report of their sample inspection performance as recommended.
"Roads Service has also decided not to issue Improvement Notices, as allowed for in the Code, where performance is unsatisfactory. It indicated that it had made a considered and deliberate decision not to do so as it felt an informal route best provided the performance improvements required and was in line with the spirit of the Code.”