A HARD-HITTING crackdown on roadworks is being launched in Worcestershire - in a bid to appease furious drivers and ease congestion.

Your Worcester News can reveal a new 'permit' scheme is being put together, meaning utility firms must pay to secure agreement before digging up the roads.

The plan, which has been created by Worcestershire County Council in response to mounting anger from motorists, means:

- An organisation must purchase a permit from the council before starting a scheme, and secure the authority's agreement on the time and length of the work

- The council will be free to refuse the permit, or order it to start on a different date to avoid gridlock if it clashes with other projects

- The permit will come with a raft of conditions specified by the council, which could include weekend and night working

- Bodies that over-spill the agreed time will be slapped with a fine, which could run to thousands if it ends in prosecution

Under the Traffic Management Act 2004, councils do have powers to launch permit schemes to be in control of all roadwork projects in their patch.

But over the last decade very few local authorities have taken it up, mainly because of the costs involved.

But after years of gripes in Worcestershire, the county council says the time is right to take advantage of the laws, and wants to share costs by teaming up with Shropshire Council, which wants the same crackdown.

Under the law the councils cannot make a profit from it, but charge enough for the permits to employ staff to draw up each agreement, and dish out fines if necessary.

It will apply to all roadworks on 'main roads' in Worcestershire, as deemed by the council.

At the moment, utility firms need to give the council advance warning of a roadworks scheme, but do not need to pay for a permit or agree to any demands.

A report on it, which is set to be backed by the Conservative cabinet on Thursday, says roadworks in Worcestershire cause "disruption and delay", lead to "substantial costs" in lost time for drivers, and are "detrimental" to the county's appeal.

Around 12,000 highways and street works take place in Worcestershire a year, many by bodies like BT, Severn Trent and the Environment Agency.

Under the change even the council's own roadworks would require a permit, but there would be no charge.

Where a charge is applied for work that runs late, the council say it will issue a fixed penalty notice of £120, followed by the risk of further fines or prosecution for persistent breaches.

In recent months roadworks have infuriated drivers, including the current £180,000 12-week scheme by Seven Trent to replace pipes in Worcester's A38 Bath Road, which runs until April, and the ongoing saga to replace the 85-year-old Abbey Bridge in Evesham, which is four months behind schedule.

Councillor John Smith, cabinet member for highways and transportation, said: "All local authorities have had problems with roadworks over-running, companies not doing the job when they said they would, things not getting done on time.

"We want to reduce the problems on the highways, that's what this is about."

Work to design the scheme, including the permit costs, will kick off in August and the council is planning to then get approval on those details from the Department for Transport.

Subject to consultation, it will launch from October 2015.