Highway infrastructure and local authorities
The end of October 2017 marked the halfway point for highways authorities to implement the new code of practice: ‘Well-managed Highway Infrastructure’. Its author, the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG), is currently carrying out a survey of local authorities to review progress with implementation and explore potential next steps.
The UKRLG has been publishing codes of practice for more than 20 years, supporting local authorities to plan the delivery of the highway service. The codes are not statutory documents but they have become de facto standards and are a relevant consideration in court cases.
The advice given in the codes is well embedded in the way highway asset owners across the UK plan and deliver all elements of highway maintenance. They have effectively become the safety net, protecting local authorities from legal action against them.
Well-managed Highway Infrastructure was launched at last year’s ICE Transport Asset Management conference and consolidated into one document all the advice that previously focused on different asset types.
It built on the maturity of asset management and brought together multiple views through extensive consultation with stakeholders. More emphasis was given on network resilience, collaboration and innovation.
The advice is simple: local authorities should consider the risks of all decisions associated with the highway service, understand the potential consequences, consider affordability and adapt their policies accordingly to reflect local needs. In turn, the highway service will become more targeted, flexible and responsive to local communities. This helps to avoid ‘gold plateing,’ create budget efficiencies and protect against legal challenge through an evidence based approach.
Reaching a consensus to get to this point was not easy. Extensive stakeholder consultation came with its own challenges. At the early stages of the review of the code, the sector was split in two: almost everyone wanted a move away from the previous prescriptive approach but half of the consultees wanted a completely open risk based approach with the other half wanting some guidance on what could be suitable maintenance standards.
The UKRLG decided against giving examples of policies or ‘standards’ as experience had proven that any examples included in previous codes were automatically adopted as ‘standards’.
A decision was made to give local authorities two years from the publication of Well-managed Highway Infrastructure to review their policies, implement the new code and adopt the risk based approach. At the end of the two years the previous codes will be withdrawn and those authorities that have not made sufficient progress will be exposed to potential risks of adverse court decisions when challenged by the public.
 Implementing the new code – where have we got to?
Early indications suggest that some local authorities are still to embrace the opportunity for change offered in the new code. Lack of resources or political support may be the reason for slow progress. But the current levels of revenue funding make traditional methods of routine maintenance unaffordable, so change is essential.
Have we, as a sector, taken the opportunity to embed technology in highway service, embracing real innovation and thinking outside the box?
Digital solutions can help us understand the needs of our customers, record the asset we own and manage, monitor asset performance and resilience, make the right investment decisions and optimise by modelling various scenarios, demonstrate impact of decisions and communicate with stakeholders.
We can do more to keep pace with technological developments and ensure that local authorities benefit from the digital world – armed with an improved ability to manage risks more effectively. Software solutions are an important component of digital asset management but the possibilities reach beyond this to an end-to-end asset management process.
The code of practice is a big achievement for the local highway maintenance sector. The result of great collaboration, it brings together years of experience in one place. It has given us the framework we need to deliver a highway service that meets local needs while supporting the national agenda.
Now, it is up to our sector to be bold in implementing Well-managed Highway Infrastructure, re-examine our policies and approach and manage highway infrastructure in a way that is effective, efficient and affordable.
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