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Mon September 20 2021

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Scotland consults on ‘narrow trenching’

23 Oct 18 The Scottish government is consulting on technical standards for ‘narrow trenching’ to ensure a uniform approach and help the technique overtake more disruptive ways of installing utilities.

Traditional trenches are still widespread
Traditional trenches are still widespread

It is aiming for a consistent approach across all of Scotland’s 33 road authorities to bring benefits for the road network, utilities and ultimately road users.

Scotland’s cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity Michael Matheson said: “Utility companies operate in a competitive market. They are continually looking for ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs to keep ahead of their competitors. This includes looking at new methods to improve the rollout of services. One of these is narrow trenching. While this technique can offer many advantages over traditional methods, a consistent approach is required to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect the existing road network as an asset.”

The consultation seeks opinion on a proposed revision to the code which is made under Section 130 of the New Road & Street Works Act 1991. The Scottish Government believes a revision to the code is now necessary to take into account the increasing use of narrow trenching as a method of installing new apparatus – particularly for broadband.

Responses to the consultation will help to shape the proposed revisions to the “specification for the reinstatement of openings in roads 2015 (SROR), which is a ministerial code of practice

At present the code allows for narrow trenching in the carriageway, footway or verge, and defines it as “all trenches of 300mm surface width or less, with a surface area greater than two square metres”. Despite this, narrow trenching has remained a relatively little-used excavation technique with traditional trench methods still being employed in most cases.

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With the development of more compact fibre cables for the delivery of broadband services, the telecoms sector in particular has revisited narrow trenching with new innovative methods to install fibre networks using thinner ‘narrow trenches’, reducing the level of excavation required and therefore increasing the speed of delivery.

“While this technique can be used under the existing code, no single section directly deals with this method,” says the consultation. “This leaves the prescribed requirements difficult to assess and open to different interpretations. Introducing a new section which pulls together all of the necessary requirements will provide much needed clarity on the subject.”

Without sufficiently clear safeguards there is a potential for damage to the road surface. The terms  ‘slot cutting’ and ‘micro trenching’ have seen an increase in use in the rest of the UK without an agreed definition. This has led to the terms being used as both an alternate term for narrow trenching and as separate excavation techniques which lie outside of the SROR. “Without specific clarification, the unchecked use of these separate terms on an inconsistent basis could lead to confusion when discussing road works in Scotland,” says the consultation.

The consultation closes on 7 December.

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