The future of the road network and how we work in it
Watch the full session here
Day 2 of Street Works UK’s Conference kicked off with a panel discussion on The future of the road network and how we work in it. The session commenced with a short presentation from Holger Kessler, Stakeholder and Comms Lead, Geospatial Commission Cabinet Office, introducing the work carried out by the National Underground Assets Register (NUAR) team. NUAR is a platform for asset owners to make their data available for planning excavations and safe digging. It is also for planners and excavators to easily access underground asset data and for feeding back information observed on site to asset owners to help improve asset records. Its aim is to address and solve the problems of fragmented data, utility strikes and unnecessary costs, with predicted annual savings of around £347m. Holger provided an overview of pilot programmes in Wales and England of Underground Assets Register with a view of making the nationwide platform operational by September 2024.
Panel Chair Elizabeth Draper, Head of Risk and Network Regulation at Openreach opened the morning’s discussion with a brief introduction of the changes the street works sector should be prepared for over the coming years. Infrastructure projects are increasing in scale and pace on top of business-as-usual activity with specific focus on support for digitalisation, decarbonisation, and also active travel. The Department for Transport (DfT) has recently announced a £338 million active travel package, including hundreds of miles of cycle and walking lanes, with transport Scotland and Wales also publishing their own active travel plans. Looking forward, active travel network maps need to take into account in our works and how it will affect access, space and collaboration.
Samantha Brothwell, Street Works Policy Manager at WPD also highlighted the need to consider the emergence of “new transport” such as electric vehicles and scooters. She also pointed to the importance of the work undertaken by NUAR, deeming it a fantastic foundation to build on the industry’s data-related needs for street works and assets. There is a big opportunity for collaboration, which would ensure much more business as usual whilst improving everyone’s experience of both living and working in a given area.
The government’s Gear Change Strategy has earmarked a significant proportion of its allocated £2 billion investment to active travel. Tony Hemmingway, Network Monitoring Manager GMRAPS, Transport for Greater Manchester noted how active travel will impact highway space. There is a change in how roads are being used with the increased uptake of cycling and walking, with a recognition that streets are for all – grass verges are being utilized and carriageways are being reduced. Looking forward, authorities will need to consider how these changes will impact street works, such as with regards to safety and diversionary codes.
Jim Forbes, Street Works Manager at CityFibre spoke to recent developments in street works practices in Scotland. He highlighted that sustainability will be a key driver when considering updates to SROR and inspection regimes, and suggested that now the Roads Commissioner should reinvest the money collected from imposed penalties into widescale training programmes. With 32 roads authorities and 5 trunk roads authorities operating in Scotland, an evident challenge is the need to coordinate across these entities when considering changes to the road network, but by identifying key areas where we are currently failing, we can find overarching ways of improving practices.
The panel concluded with a discussion on the impact of changes to the road network on diversionary works codes of practice. Samantha noted that we are stepping into challenging time, and there will be increasing engineering complexities over finding new places to host key apparatus. We only have so much capacity under the ground, and we need to make sure everything is fit for purpose and maintain a fundamental balance between moving assets and compensation.