Virgin Media fined £385,000 for breaches of street-works safety rules
Magistrates impose one of their biggest fines on broadband giant
A judge has imposed an £385,000 fine on broadband giant Virgin Media after its contractors left streets across Carlisle in chaos.
The fine – one of the biggest ever handed down by a Cumbrian magistrates’ court – was imposed after the firm pleaded guilty to seven breaches of street-works safety rules.
The city’s Rickergate court heard how contractors working for Virgin Media repeatedly flouted rules which are designed to ensure that such street works are carried out without putting pedestrians and other road users at unnecessary risk.
Workmen are legally obliged to provide proper signage or pedestrian protection.
But, as Virgin Media’s contractors carried out a huge broadband cable-laying operation across the city in July last year, this did not happen, District Judge Gerald Chalk heard.
The court heard a snapshot of the problems as prosecutor Jonathan Farnsworth described seven locations in Carlisle affected by shoddy workmanship.
Among the problem areas identified by Cumbria County Council highways officials was Upperby Road.
Residents living in 15 properties on the street were unable to get into or out of their homes because of the cable-laying excavations.
On the same street, after closing a pedestrian crossing, workmen erected a sign telling pedestrians to use a non-existent alternative crossing.
Elsewhere in the city, pedestrians were forced to step off dug-up pavements and risk walking amid moving traffic on busy roads because no alternative route was provided.
On the day when all seven offences were committed – July 31 last year – Virgin Media’s contractor had eight work gangs who were attempting to work at 22 separate sites across Carlisle.
A council highways inspector said the situation got out of control.
“They were not providing suitable and safe alternative walkways for pedestrians,” said the official. “People had to walk along the road.
“What the contractors should have done was make sure that all the sites they were working on had been made safe before they left them.
“But they just kept digging more holes.”
Virgin Media admitted offences relating to poorly guarded or signposted works in the following streets: Scalegate Road, Beaconsfield Street, Thirlmere Street, Uldale Road, Kirklands Road, and two sites in Upperby Road.
In Scalegate Road, resident Amy McGeever, 26, said the cable-laying work was a pain for locals.
“It just seemed to go on for ages,” said Amy, who had to negotiate numerous pavement holes as she pushed the pram carrying her two-year-old daughter Imogen along the street.
“Sometimes, they’d park their vans across our drive, so we had to ask them to move.”
On Upperby Road, resident Joyce Muir, 67, said she still bears the scar on her left leg after falling near her home on an uneven paving stone.
“We know the work had to be done,” she said. “But they just didn’t put the flagstones back level.
“Nobody seemed to be supervising or checking that the work was being done properly.
“I had a bad fall on an uneven paving stone. The fall ripped my jeans and I’ve still got the scar on my leg. My knees were in a terrible state.
“The workmen were here for ages, and some of the language they used was choice.”
A woman who lives over the road from Joyce also tripped on a poorly repaired pavement.
“She was really shaken up,” added Joyce.
A Virgin Media spokesman said: “We apologise to Cumbria County Council and the local residents affected by the works carried out by contract partners on behalf of Virgin Media.
“While we continue to expand our fibre broadband network to more homes across the country we aim to minimise any disruption caused.
“In this case we fell short of the high standards we set ourselves and those partners who work with us.”
Virgin Media was prosecuted under the 1991 New Road and Street Works Act, which aims to ensure that all such work is carried out safely and with consideration for the needs of disabled pedestrians.
As well as being fined, the firm was told to pay prosecution costs of £3,500, and a £170 victim surcharge.
Seven additional charges – relating to streets that included Weardale Road in Caldewgate; Embleton Road in Upperby; and Clementia Terrace, Currock – were not proceeded with.
A Cumbria County Council spokesman said: “We are pleased with the outcome of this case. Utilities working on the public highway must ensure they work in a safe manner in line with the current legislation.
“Where utilities undertake work in the highway they must also ensure that they reinstate their works to the relevant standards.”