The Department for Transport has come under fire amid allegations that new legislation requiring councils to invest in IT systems to co-ordinate roadworks is "unworkable".
The New Roads and Street Works Act will require councils to make their IT interoperable with utility companies' systems so that they can co-ordinate roadworks to reduce traffic congestion.
Software developers, councils and utilities last week raised concerns about the government's implementation of the act. They accused the Department for Transport of introducing "inconsistencies" into the technology specification, and warned it would be difficult for councils and utilities to meet the April 2008 deadline because the specification had not been finalised.
The Eton Developers Group (EDG), which represents 16 software firms and utilities, is advising the government on the legislation and the development of roadworks software. It said that, under current plans, councils would face technical difficulties in linking to utilities' systems.
"The department has introduced logical inconsistencies that mean the different systems will not interact properly," said Alun Hunt, marketing manager at software supplier and EDG member Exor Corporation. "We have less than six months to produce and implement new software. We are not miracle workers."
Dave Turnbull, chair of the National Joint Utilities Group, which is providing technical advice on the legislation, said, "There are less than six months to launch and the specification is not yet finalised. We fear that this will lead to flawed software from day one."
Wayne Scott, assistant traffic manager at Bracknell-Forest Council, said, "The technical spec has caused a great deal of concern."
Scott said that although the law could make things easier for councils by giving them more notice of roadworks, many authorities were unsure what technical problems the specifications could cause for them. "We are not sure of the IT investment needed, because the software has not been written," he said.
The Department for Transport said many councils already had the necessary systems in place. However, Hunt said, "The new rules will mean a massive upgrade, plus many councils still use paper-based systems."
The department said it had listened to industry concerns. "Most of the EDG's suggestions have been incorporated into the revised technical specification. The department and its contractors have only made changes to EDG's revision where this is necessary," it said.