Utilities for construction and operation
Utilities are infrastructure services provided to consumers that are sometimes considered to be ‘public’ services, that is, they are supplied to the public and are important for the normal functioning of society. As a result they normally come under some form of public control.
Utilities are generally considered to include: electricity, gas, water and sewage and communications services.
Utilities ‘watchdogs’ include:
- The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM).
- OFWAT (water and sewerage).
- OFCOM (telecommunications).
There are also a number of independent consumer organisations such as Energy Watch.
Utilities providers may be considered to be ‘statutory undertakers’ with statutory rights (such as the right to carry out certain works without obtaining the normal permissions) and obligations (such as the supply of utilities). Under certain circumstances, there is a statutory right to connection (see statutory undertakers for more information).
Ensuring that utilities are supplied to developments is vitally important, not just for the completed development, but also for the construction process itself. It has been cited as the most common cause of delay in construction projects (ref British Property Federation), particularly on larger projects where multiple connections may be required or where the existing infrastructure may need to be extended or reinforced. Delays in connection persist, despite the introduction of connection performance standards for suppliers, and the threat of fines.
The infrastructure necessary to supply utilities may be provided by the network operator, or increasingly, by an independent provider (to an agreed design that is then ‘adopted’ by the network operator). These organisations should be considered stakeholders in the project and identified as third party dependencies that bring risks to the project.
Delays can result from the action or inaction of the developer as well as the provider. Delays can be avoided by:
- Starting discussions with providers as soon as possible, ideally with a single point of contact.
- Early exchange of information and confirmation of feasibility and ability to supply.
- Better communication of dates, procedures for access, locations and so on.
- Adequate notification.
- Providing access, and ensuring that appropriate personnel are available.
- Identifying routes for utilities and obstacles.
- Not overestimating loads, which can lead to unnecessary reinforcement of the existing infrastructure. It is important that the developer is aware of the thresholds at which reinforcement will be necessary.
- Timely submission of designs for approval, or timely request of designs from the provider.
Developers will need to ensure that existing site information is obtained, and surveys carried out to determine the position, extent and capacity of existing services. They will need to agree with the provider, the design of any new infrastructure that is required, who will provide it, who will adopt it, and any charges, as well as the appropriate testing, inspection, certification, connection (or disconnection in the case of demolition), installation of meters and so on.
The costs associated with utilities can be significant, both in terms of the initial capital cost of installation (particularly if there is no existing supply or if the existing supply is inadequate) and ongoing bills during operation. It is important therefore to ensure that the best deal is being obtained from providers and that alternative quotes are obtained if possible.
NB The industry is now becoming more complex, with the emergence of on and off-site generation, centralised energy, district heating systems and so on.
 Government guidance
On 19 December 2014, the government published Better connected: a practical guide to utilities for home builders. It sets out what developers and utilities companies should expect from each other when providing utilities to bring forward future development. It is targeted at housing developers, but is relevant to all developments.
The government suggest that the guide offers '...a clear code of practice setting out how utility companies and developers should work together when building a new housing development. This is a significant step in speeding up the process of getting new developments connected to gas, water and electricity, as part of push to help hardworking people get into their new homes sooner... It will also drive up performance of utilities companies across the board by providing a clear set of standards and making it crystal clear how developers and companies should be working together to make sure more developments are completed on time and on budget.'
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Building services.
- Electrical control systems.
- External works.
- Renewable energy.
- Statutory undertakers.
- Sustainable urban drainage systems.
- Third party dependencies.
- Water conservation.
 External references
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