Innovation can underpin effective street works

08 Nov

Utilities and their contracting partners are delivering on a significant scale in the Street Works’ space. Whether it be building new infrastructure to improve broadband connections, getting ready for EVs, rolling out green gas, or maintaining existing assets, there is a national effort underway which is unlike anything street works operatives have seen before.

When the industry’s work is essential to so many national objectives – including economic growth, delivering gigabit capable broadband, and supplying the infrastructure necessary for net zero – our members are looking at how they can realise the ambitions of government and the wider public. This ambition is a core driver of Street Works UK’s vision for the industry, and our desire to drive innovation in the policy and methods that shape our sector.

Not much has really changed in three decades: dig up, replace or repair the pipe, wire or cable – backfill, and re-instate the surface. But now, innovation really has the potential to drive a step change in how we deliver works. Already members are deploying new technology that deliver works in faster and more efficient ways, reducing impact on motorists and pedestrians, and achieving considerable results.

Recent works by Cadent right in the centre of London have clearly highlighted this. Its collaboration with and use of Cast Iron Joint Sealing Robot (so called, CISBOT) to deliver gas maintenance works in the centre of Westminster has demonstrated innovation that challenges how utilities should work and matches it with strong results. Using this remote-controlled robot, Cadent is able to deliver routine maintenance on critical parts of the mains network in minutes. Now a few small holes can deliver what would previously require large scale excavation works that impact motorists, public transport, and critical logistics around the Palace of Westminster.

This approach – which is faster, less disruptive, and more consistent – exemplifies how utilities can drive innovation to deliver higher standards for road users and wider consumers. It is also a clear example of the barriers our industry faces as utilities seek to recognise and support these new innovations within pre-existing policy, regulation and guidance to benefit road users and consumers from less disruption, emissions and shorter road closures.

To deliver the national ambitions of government and the wider public, it is clear that utilities, government and regulators need to look searchingly at these barriers that prevent utilities adopting new approaches. Unlocking such innovation can turbocharge infrastructure delivery, reduce the sector’s carbon footprint, and minimise disruption on our roads. Cadent and CISBOT’s partnership is an early example of what can be achieved, and how we must do more to realise the industry’s full potential.

The rule book doesn’t need to be thrown out. Instead, by looking again at how we proscribe activities and not outcomes, and enable fresh thinking with oversight that gives local authorities and government assurances, we can unlock industry investment and channel it into delivering more works to the highest possible standards.

Street Works UK