Making a difference for our customers

Making a difference for our customers

National Highway’s puts customers at the core of everything it does. And it’s vital, says Customer Experience Director Pete Martin, that everyone in our business and supply chain understands how they can make a difference for our customers and are empowered to do so

pete martin
Pete Martin is National Highways’ Customer Experience Director

Think about the last time you bought a branded product; perhaps an electrical appliance like a TV. It’s highly likely you did some research before pressing the ‘buy’ button. You probably looked at various price points, delivery times and warrantee options. Before making a final commitment, you may also have looked at customer reviews; not just about the product but also about the service of the company selling. Ultimately, your final selection was probably down to trust in the company you selected to deliver your product on time and in great condition.

But what happens when there’s less choice for your customers? And fewer tangible touchpoints like a point of sale or a friendly note when they receive their shiny new product. How do you gain, and retain, the trust of your customer base and make them feel like you care?

That’s the challenge we face at National Highways every day. We know that many of our customers don’t have a choice about whether to travel on our roads. But they can choose to listen to us, to follow our advice or use our information, and they can choose to trust us. Their expectations and experiences matter hugely to us, which is why customer service is one of our top priorities.

Our first customer service strategy, launched in 2016, has played an essential role in putting customers at the core of how we work. But our customers are diverse, and their needs are changing. So, we need to keep driving change and improving on those things our customers are telling us mean the most to them.

Since late last year we’ve been undertaking a review of our strategy to ensure it reflects the evolving expectations of both the people who use our roads and those who live and work near them. In May 2021, we released our new strategy: Making a difference for our customers. The new strategy is evolutionary. It’s built on greater insight and analysis into what really matters to our customers, as well as our performance goals for the second Road Period. It also recognises our customers’ changing needs in relation to travel patterns, the environment and technology.

The new strategy focuses on building capability by empowering our people and developing better relationships with our customers. This will help us improve how we deliver the basics, operate a well maintained and safe network, and provide better information for our customers.

For example, we’re making improvements to our roadside signs and signals so that they display information that is helpful and relevant to our customers. At the same time, we’ve enhanced how our operators set these signs through virtual reality training. This immersive training brings to life the broader impact of incidents on our customers, encouraging operators to ask, ‘If I were the customer, what information would I like to have in this situation?’

We also want to make sure that contacting us is easy and stress-free for all our customers. We’ve introduced the video relay service, SignLive to our contact centre so that our Deaf customers have equal access to this service. And if someone breaks down on our roads and is unable to use a SOS phone due to an impairment, they can now text us on 07380 283 600 for roadside assistance

Ultimately, we want to enable our customers to have better end-to-end experiences and feel confident that they’ll have a safe and reliable journey.

To help deliver our customer service strategy, it’s vital that everyone in our business and supply chain understands how they can make a difference for our customers and be empowered to do so. We all need to understand which areas of customer experience we can contribute to, and where we can do more.

Pete Martin is National Highways’ Customer Experience Director. To find out more about working together to make a difference for customers, come to Pete’s talk at Highways UK, which is running in the National Highways Theatre on 3 November, 14.15-14.35

Equity, diversity and inclusion in the highways industry – what does it mean to you?

Equity, diversity and inclusion in the highways industry – what does it mean to you?

What does equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) mean to you? asks Rachel Billington Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM. Is it a more diverse workforce? Is it flexible working? Getting students interested in STEM? A bid requirement? Or is it something that’s for the human resources department to deal with?

rachel billington
Rachel Billington is Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM.

From my perspective, it’s not one of the above, it’s all of the above and so much more. Yes, it means recruiting a more diverse workforce, it means rounder educational opportunities and it means there are some legal obligations around it too as part of the Equality Act 2010. And any of us involved in bids know ED&I is nowadays routinely mandated in procurement.

But the responsibility for a workforce where everyone has fair opportunity, which is diverse and where people feel included, is also down to every single one of us. In an organisation where ED&I truly works, the principles are integrated both at a corporate and personal level.

Many people think ED&I is about celebrating difference and events, and this is really important, but there is more to it if you want to really bring about cultural change. This means at a corporate level ensuring a robust and effective strategy, with supporting governance, to encourage ED&I. This not only locks-in good practice, it sets a precedent about the values of that company, which can cascade down from management to staff. But how well does industry do this?

When we’re thinking about ourselves and our impact on ED&I, it involves taking a step back and thinking about what we do and how our own biases can impact others. Whether that’s an off-the-cuff comment or a decision about staffing.

On a personal level, the issue can sometimes include behaviours we’re not aware of. At AECOM I recently held a webinar on microaggressions and the negative impact on the way they make people feel in the workplace. Have you ever been in a situation where the only woman in a meeting is automatically asked to take notes or a person from a different ethnicity being asked where they’re really from? Some of these microaggressions don’t come from malice, but how can we deal with these situations better? How can we raise awareness?

I believe a good place to start is to become comfortable in having difficult discussions. One way we have done this at AECOM is by launching our employee resource groups, or ERGs. By sharing experiences, ideas and opinions, we can better understand why ED&I is important to the industry, but also understand what challenges the industry and our people face when dealing with the issues which arise from this.

It’s not a new issue, so we need to take stock and ask ourselves whether we’ve made tangible progress and what has worked well. And how well are we engaging leaders and holding them to account for delivering meaningful change in industry?

Rachel Billington is Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM. She is convening a panel at Highways UK on 3 November to explore these issues further and will be joined by Ron Calderwood-Duncan – Head of EDI & Engagement at National Highways, Jyoti Sehdev – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Costain, and Rory Poole, Roads Sector Leader, UK & Ireland at AECOM.

Smart cities need smart highways and roads

Smart cities need smart highways and roads

Transport is one of the main contributors to carbon emissions in London and to meet the Mayor’s ambitious target to make the capital a net zero city by 2030 we will need to dramatically increase smart and electric transport alternatives – and not just electric cars! And to achieve this, there is a pressing need to consider the role of highways and streets within the emerging digital ecosystem, says Nathan Pierce, Head of Smart London and Sharing Cities at the Greater London Authority.


nathan pierce
Nathan Pierce, Head of Smart London and Sharing Cities, Greater London Authority

Our highways are connectors; to, from and within our cities. Today, cities are under increasing pressure to develop more effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and smart infrastructure is essential for this modernisation. A good example is smart mobility. The demand for intelligent mobility solutions that make it easier for people and goods to be transported to, from and through cities is growing. And so many cities have stepped up to the challenge, working across sectors to find solutions that work for their citizens.

Our major international smart cities venture – Sharing Cities – is addressing some of the most pressing urban challenges facing urban areas today. Three lighthouse cities (London, Lisbon, Milan) have implemented a range of green tech and data services in close collaboration with three fellow cities (Bordeaux, Burgas, Warsaw) to test out the latest thinking and to scale up what works.

After drawing on nearly €25 million in EU funding, the project has triggered nearly €270 million in investment in an effort to expand a smart strategy that involves energy use, low carbon transport and data management. 34 partners in Sharing Cities from the private sector – both large and small – public sector and academic institutions have collaborated to develop workable business models for smart technologies that can be scaled up and replicated across other UK and European cities. In doing so they have supported the growth of the green tech market.

All six cities have demonstrated the benefits that using green tech and working together can have on carbon reduction and service delivery. In the first phase we implemented building retrofits, e-mobility, sustainable energy management systems, smart street infrastructure (such as smart lampposts), urban sharing platforms and digital incentivisation applications. Using the learnings from lighthouse cities, fellow cities co-designed, validated and implemented similar solutions and models within their own city contexts.

In the world of mobility, we have managed to shift the dial on how our cities approach mobility as a service and shared transport solutions. We have deployed over ten mobility islands across our cities and demonstrated the contribution they make. We have deployed 1,000s of publicly owned shared bikes which have led to improvements in cycling infrastructure, especially in Lisbon. We have converted entire municipal fleets to electric vehicles with very positive results. And we have tested a whole range of parking sensors and traffic management technologies that can help us to reach our climate targets.

We know that this technology can have a real impact, now we want to reach out to various sectors and boroughs across London to understand how we can scale up what works and link in with existing transit plans.

Nathan Pierce is Head of Smart London and Sharing Cities, Greater London Authority. Nathan is speaking on the Big Thinking Stage at Highways UK (12.50, 3 November). He will further explore how highways and transport fit within the smart city context and London’s 2030 net-zero ambitions, while providing latest insights from the international Sharing Cities programme.

Accelerating delivery of big infrastructure

Accelerating delivery of big infrastructure

National Highways has been working with the government’s Project Speed infrastructure taskforce to develop ways of accelerating the delivery of major road schemes, making it says National Highways’ director David Haimes, “an exciting and challenging opportunity for us and our suppliers to transform how we work together”

david haimes
David Haimes, National Highways’ Regional Investment Programme Director

Rebuilding the economy and levelling up the country are two of the great opportunities and challenges for us in the highways industry. The Prime Minister announced the Build Back Better, Faster, Greener initiative last year. Since then National Highways has been working with the government’s Project Speed infrastructure taskforce to develop ways of accelerating the delivery of major road schemes.

So far we have almost halved the timeline for the construction period of the £1 billion A66 trans-Pennine road upgrade, from ten years to five. We’ll achieve the time savings, together with our supply chain partners, by using even more modular and offsite construction practices.

We’ve also taken a detailed look at the A66 project timelines to see where we can shift activity to the left and fast track work streams. For example, site investigation and archaeology work have been undertaken within the preliminary design stage. This will support a robust development consent order (DCO).

But the A66 is only a pathfinder for what we want to do next with our supply chain colleagues. Working with the Department for Transport, we want reduce the time it takes to develop, design and deliver. We’ll use new processes that modernise our approach and remove obstacles to progress. And we want to streamline how we run major projects in National Highways, working with our public and private delivery partners. We’ll be looking to embed delivery innovations like those we have used on the A66 and A14.

So the challenge for the highways sector is to accelerate the economic, social and road user benefits by delivering faster. To create and enable new jobs, better connect businesses with customers, and make social and holiday journeys easier for families and friends. And to add social value to local communities and improve the environment around our network.

There is an exciting and challenging opportunity for us and our suppliers to transform how we work together, and connect the country even more quickly and efficiently.

David Haimes is joint director of National Highways’ Regional Investment Programme and is leading the company’s work on accelerating infrastructure delivery. Suppliers will learn much more when David unveils the plan alongside Philip Andrews, Deputy Director of Strategic Roads at the Department for Transport, in the National Highways Theatre at Highways UK on 3 November, at 14.40 – 15.15


Road User Charging – Status Today, Preparing for Tomorrow

Road User Charging – Status Today, Preparing for Tomorrow

Road use charging is back on the agenda. While the economic and environmental arguments stack up, public acceptability will be a significant challenge. Getting this right is important and the infrastructure sector, says Stantec’s Dougie McDonald, must actively engage with Government to influence policy development

Dougie McDonald, Stantec

Over the past 50 years there has been extensive research and assessment of the benefits and challenges of different approaches to directly charging for road use in the UK. Until relatively recently, the London Congestion Charge and M6toll provided the only two examples of implementation of large-scale schemes, other than estuarial crossings.

Now road user charging (RUC) is back on the agenda, this time due to the emergence of a roads policy ‘trilemma’ for the Government to solve. This consists of the need to decarbonise our roads network to meet climate change commitments, a potential £40billion blackhole in Government finances from the associated mass adoption of electric vehicles and fuel tax loss, and the ongoing necessity of supporting economic growth through free-flowing road-network connectivity—particularly as we seek to close the lost economic performance from the pandemic.

Current policy proposals can comfortably address particular aspects of the trilemma; however, it is likely that all three issues will need to be addressed over time. As a result, there is renewed interest in RUC in the UK and its role on our future road systems.

Applying RUC anywhere comes with significant known challenges. We have to consider the best technology, which parts of the network it will be applied to, and different approaches between cars and heavy goods. We must assess the impact on different social groups, particularly low-income, marginalised groups, and those with few options other than a car and travel at certain times of the day. RUC schemes collect a large amount of data on the travel habits of millions of people—meaning privacy is a challenge. And finally timing and transition are key as the Government has set ambitious targets for a net zero UK.

Taken together, these challenges all lead towards the issue of acceptability whereby the public feel confident and willing to use toll systems.

Trials in the United States have shown the importance of equity and privacy arrangements, and that rural, low income groups and certain ethnicities may be more difficult to convince of the merits of RUC. Lessons from schemes in Europe and Asia/Pacific show the importance of demonstrating how funds raised can support public transport improvements or environmental gains. These schemes show that the technology is ready for RUC implementation and that “back office” account management arrangements are important.

In the UK, an upgrade programme has begun to improve the tolling system on the M6toll, introducing new digital systems and enabling broader interactions with the user base who complete 18 million journeys annually, or around 50,000 every day.

Public acceptability of a new RUC system will be a significant challenge, so the infrastructure sector must actively engage with Government to influence policy development.


Dougie McDonald is Stantec’s UK Regional Director for Transport. He is speaking with Andy Cliffe, CEO of Midlands Expressway, in a session at Highways UK at 9.30am on 4 November which will further explore current trends in road user charging and lessons learned. Highways UK takes place at the NEC, Birmingham on 3/4 November. It is free to attend, register now!

Electric vehicle charging: why it can be likened to the wild west

Electric vehicle charging: why it can be likened to the wild west

Setting net zero targets is the easy bit. The difficult bit is all about the practical measures to get from here to there, says Sir Dieter Helm, Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford. And when it comes to electric vehicle charging the lack of an overarching framework risks turning a competitive opportunity into the wild west

Dieter helm
Professor Sir Dieter Helm

Setting net zero targets, especially when they are 30 years away, is the easy bit. The difficult bit is all about the practical measures to get from here to there. That is all the more challenging when it means tackling the long-neglected sources of emissions—notably transport, heating and agriculture. By setting an intermediary target to stop selling diesel and petrol cars, the government has willed the end; now it has to will the means, and especially when the target is less than ten years away.

Putting aside both the environmental problems that electric cars bring and alternatives like hydrogen, the urgent immediate step is to have a nationwide efficient car-charging system. We probably need much of this to be in place within the next five years.

You might think that with such an imperative over such a short timescale, there would be a national car charging infrastructure plan; that it would be designed around the electricity grid and the regional distribution networks; and that there would be a core utility, backed by a regulatory asset base, with a capital expenditure programme to deliver the necessary infrastructure by a specified date.

Not a bit of it. It’s being driven bottom up, by competing companies trying to grab the best bits of the market without an overarching framework. It is a wild west, driven by the conflicting commercial interests and, in the case of the oil companies, the protection and enhancements of their existing fossil-fuel charging stations. Electricity supply companies are in on the act, and, again, this reflects the same sort of commercial incentives that brought us the shambles of the smart meter rollout. Meanwhile the car companies have no interest in standardising the batteries, and are unwilling to contemplate the obvious answer—to switch batteries when charging is necessary.

Given the sheer scale of the challenges and the urgency, it would be quite hard to make this up. My hunch is that when we get to 2030, the target will be pushed back. Nor is this unique to electric vehicle charging. The same sort of shambolic bottom-up approach is being pushed in home heating, somehow imagining that banning gas boilers is going to magic up an alternative heating system. When it comes to agriculture, government is not really trying at all.

It could all be so much better. There could have a much better chance of meeting the deadlines, and because it could be much more efficient, it could be a lot cheaper. The way to start is with the end game: a universal service obligation that provides all the citizens with access to electric charging. With the end in mind, the next step is to sketch out what a national charging system, as a core utility, might look like. It does not have to fill in all the details. These will need to be flexible. But it does need to sort out the main bits: the charging backbone and how this sits with the electric networks. This needs a system operator, and it needs a utility structure and a regulatory framework to ensure that investment costs are recovered. It does not need a single company to actually do the works; that can be competitive. But it does need a plan to work to.

The most likely outcome is that the government will keep on trying to make competition deliver a natural monopoly, until it is obvious that it is failing. Even then it may not give up. But, in the end, we will have a national charging infrastructure—just too late, and too costly.


Professor Sir Dieter Helm will expand on these ideas in his contribution to this year’s Highways UK, taking place at the NEC on 3/4 November. Free to attend, book your place now

And for further insight check out Dieter’s latest book

Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change.

How vehicle sensor data is underpinning a revolution in road safety

How vehicle sensor data is underpinning a revolution in road safety

Steve Birdsall, CEO of Gaist, provider of roadscape insight and intelligence services, explains the very real possibility of a revolution in road safety

In the past decade, the role of data within the built environment has changed dramatically. An explosion in the information available to infrastructure asset owners and operators, the emergence of technologies and digital processes such as BIM and digital twins and advances in analytics, have transformed how we understand the world around us.

For those managing and interacting with our roads, this data revolution is starting to unlock benefits including optimising network performance, driving efficiencies and – critically – improving safety.

The richer the level of information and insights available to roads decision-makers, the greater the depth of analysis, the better informed they are and the better positioned they are to respond to defects and challenges on the network.

This data is not just becoming available to the decision maker. Road users will soon be able to access real-time information about the condition of roads.

Advancing road safety
Today, a new development is set to further deepen our understanding of the network and facilitate a huge step forward in road safety.

Data captured from sensors within regular passenger vehicles can now be used to provide on-the-ground ‘live’ detail about road friction, road roughness, temperature, and surface defects.

As an example of how this data could be used, the implications for the winter-market particularly are huge. Decision making by Winter Duty Managers over when and how to treat the network has traditionally been based on Road Weather Information Systems, which though time tested, have well documented limitations.

But armed with this next-level of dynamic data – combined with other reliable data sources such as radar and satellite images – those responsible for managing our roads networks and keeping them open and safe during the winter period will be far better informed and empowered to predict and plan their interventions.

Take gritting routes. With this rich data, our knowledgeable and experienced winter service managers will have at their disposal far greater detail of how gritting routes are responding to treatment and how drivers are experiencing travelling on those gritted routes.

Fed into a winter service strategy and used to combine with and complement other winter specific features, this information can be deployed not just in one season but to drive continual improvement for future years.

This will provide evidence to quickly respond to key questions such as what parts of the network should we treat? when should we treat them? and what treatments should be carried out?

So how does it work?
The real time datasets consist of a combination of tyre-road friction readings, ambient temperature and windscreen wiper speeds from passenger vehicles traversing the road network. This is then used to create a set of map layers to give winter maintenance professionals access to a level of detailed information with which to inform their decisions.

The readings are all mapped using GPS and timestamped and are never the result of data from one vehicle – there is an established minimum threshold of vehicles from which data is drawn.

The real-time dynamic datasets will be accessible for the first time to local authorities and networks from Safecote, a Gaist partner, through its BM Roads System.

Advancing our mission
At Gaist, we have always been laser-focused on our mission to provide the deepest and richest possible intelligence about our roads to support critical areas including the safety of the network. With this latest development, we are proud to continue to honour that commitment.

Steve Birdsall Talking Heads; How vehicle sensor data is underpinning a revolution in road safety
Steve Birdsall is CEO of Gaist

Steve Birdsall will further explore how vehicle sensor technology is transforming asset managers’ approach to road safety at Highways UK, which is running at the NEC on 3/4 November. Other contributors to the session include Björn Zachrisson from Nira Dynamics in Sweden and Paul Boss, Chief Executive of Road Surface Treatments Association. For more information on Highways UK, including how to book your free exhibition and conference pass, go to

The future of a sustainable highway is now

The future of a sustainable highway is now

Products that can help to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of laying a road surface are available now, but too many highway authorities are still hesitant to try new technologies, says Tarmac’s national technical director, Brian Kent

Warm mix asphalts which are manufactured and laid at around 40 degrees less than traditional hot material have been performing well for many years, but still only represent around 5% of market share in the UK.

Two years ago, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Highways concluded that the use of warm mix asphalt can reduce CO2 emissions associated with asphalt production by as much as 15%.

The case for warm mix was strengthened in 2019 after the introduction of guidance for warm mix into the specification for highway works, which many local authorities follow.

But still, the quantities of lower temperature asphalts specified remain low.

It now needs senior industry and political support to champion materials such as warm mix asphalt if the UK’s transportation sector is to meet its 2050 carbon reduction target.

If warm mix became the default for asphalt specified across the country, then overnight, we could see around 70 or 80% of asphalt installed in this country being mixed and laid warm.

There is also a need for more collaboration between local authorities to allow a product deemed suitable in one area to be readily accepted in another. At the moment, some local authorities are happy to specify new materials, whereas others will only agree if they carry out trials and monitor its performance over five years or more.

Another highway development that is not being exploited as much as it could is for binder and surface courses to be replaced as one homogeneous material, rather than in separate passes. By laying single-layer materials, you make a considerable sustainability saving by reducing time on site and the associated operations.

A more recent introduction to our sustainable products portfolio is rubber modified asphalt, which incorporates recycled worn vehicle tyres into the carriageway.

The sector’s apparent reluctance to embrace innovative thinking is at odds with that of the public. Technology has always quickly been embraced by consumers, over a wide range of industries, including mobile phones and cars. But when it comes to our industry people can be reluctant to take on what they perceive as a risk. Historical or procurement barriers restrict innovation uptake in terms of what has been specified, with a lack of flexibility to change and embrace innovation.

While environmental awareness is growing in the sector, cost still appears to be the main driving factor behind product specification. However, just because a product is greener and can be slightly more expensive per tonne it does not mean that the whole life cost is more expensive – by reducing site operations and extending pavement life, costs can be reduced.

Brian Kent is National Technical Director at Tarmac. Tarmac is sponsoring the Civils and Materials Theatre at Highways UK at the NEC on 3/4 November 2021

The hidden pandemic –  workplace health risks in highways

The hidden pandemic – workplace health risks in highways

Covid-19 has thrown the issue of workplace health into the spotlight. But in the highways sector, which has a heady cocktail of exposure hazards from manual handling to bitumen fumes, the control of workplace health risks has long been the Cinderella to accident prevention. Steve Perkins explains why we must focus much more on the health risks and points to pioneering work with Connect Plus and Highways England

It’s BIG!

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that annually 13,000 workers die from work-related (non-COVID) disease across all sectors in Great Britain. The total figure for accident fatalities is around 110-150 each year. So 99% health and 1% safety.

Of that total, construction alone accounts for 3,500 occupational cancer deaths, plus 5,500 new cases of occupational cancer each year. At any one time there are some 81,000 construction workers with work-related ill-health.

Highways accounts for a significant proportion of construction and has the usual cocktail of exposure hazards such as dust, noise, vibration, diesel exhaust, solvent and welding fumes, manual handling and solar radiation. And added to that of course, large amounts of bitumen fume.

Why ‘Pandemic’?

According the Centre for Disease Control in the USA, an epidemic refers to an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of an infectious disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area. And a pandemic refers an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.

A key difference with work-related diseases is that generally they’re non-communicable i.e. you develop them through exposure to hazardous substances/processes and they’re not transmissible person-to-person. Strictly speaking epidemic and pandemic relate to infectious diseases. But, indulge me for a moment and assume we can apply them to non-communicable diseases as well.

Another difference is that work-related diseases generally have no cure. There’s no vaccine for silicosis or noise induced hearing loss.

The global picture for work-related fatalities is a little different to the UK with an estimated 2.3M disease deaths each year and 0.3M accident deaths (87% health and 13% safety). Although if we looked only at industrialised countries it would be similar proportions to the UK.

By any measure of scale this is a pandemic.

Why ‘Hidden’?

Firstly, unlike COVD, work-related diseases develop slowly, usually over a number of years and sometimes over a number of decades. This means that workers suffering these conditions retire early and die at home or in hospital or care homes. They are no longer ‘on the books’ of the employer who exposed them. That’s rather less visible than a workplace accident fatality isn’t it?

In fact HSE estimates that of the £16.2Bn cost of all work related injury and ill health, 66% is due to ill-health (and that only covers new cases of disease each year, not the burden due to past-exposure). Of that £16.2Bn employers pick up about 20%, government pays about 22% and individuals and families account for the remaining 56%. Not quite ‘risk-creator pays’ is it?

Secondly, workplace health hazards often go unrecognised and/or unobserved. Most people would probably recognise the risk of a fall from height quite easily, but do they appreciate the serious risks to lung health of dusts, fumes, fibres and vapours? We’ve found that in construction there is certainly an awareness and understanding gap to bridge when it comes to health hazards.

steve perkins highways related occupational health risks

Steve Perkins MA CDir FIoD FInstP AFOH is managing director of Steve Perkins Associates Limited

Highways UK Conference Panel

For this year’s Highways UK at the NEC on 3/4 November, we’ve assembled a high level panel of industry leaders and thinkers to discuss the issues raised by the ‘Hidden Pandemic’ in the context of highways and how we might begin to tackle the risks. Steve will be chairing the panel and highlighting some of the innovative work on health protection undertaken on the M25 in partnership with Connect Plus and Highways England. He will be joined by:

Andy Dean, Chief Executive, Connect Plus M25

Nicola Bell, Regional Director South East, Highways England

Dylan Roberts, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Director, Skanska

Alison Margary, President, BOHS – The Chartered society for Worker Health Protection

Time to consider a new system of taxing motorists?

Time to consider a new system of taxing motorists?

Subsidising low emission vehicles is creating an increasingly large hole in HM Treasury’s coffers. And with the expected rapid transition to electric vehicles we’ll be talking serious money within a few years. RAC Foundation Director Steve Gooding asks whether now is the time to consider a new system of taxing motorists, but from a rather different perspective to that traditionally associated with road pricing.

If you were to ask the Chancellor whether he is a spender or a saver – that question so favoured by the money sections of weekend newspapers – he would, whatever his natural inclination, have to admit that on the evidence of the past twelve months and this week’s Budget, he is much more the former than the latter. The record shows that Rishi Sunak has, faced with the covid crisis, been in ‘spend-spend-spend’ mode in an attempt to prevent the total collapse of the UK economy.

But there is another generous policy being pursued by Mr Sunak which whilst not yet on the scale of the viral bailout is set to cause him an additional financial headache in the not too distant future. And that is the subsidising of ‘green’ vehicles.

Analysis by the RAC Foundation shows that when a pure electric car is purchased instead of a petrol car then HM Treasury loses, on average, around £897 of revenue in the first 12 months after registration. If the purchase of an electric vehicle was in place of a diesel car then the amount would be £1,139.

The missing money comprises forgone fuel duty (currently 57.95p for every litre of petrol and diesel sold), VAT on both the duty and the underlying product price of the fuel, and the initial Vehicle Excise Duty payment – or showroom tax as it is colloquially called – which is emissions-based and is generally higher in the first year.

With the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders forecasting pure plug-in electric vehicle sales in the region of 175,000 in the coming twelve months the switch to green vehicles this year is set to cost the Exchequer another £175 million. 

And don’t forget the purchase subsidy the government currently makes available for most new electric vehicles via the plug-in car and van grants, and the money it provides to help individuals and businesses install electric charge points.

Despite all that you could argue that the resulting figures are still relatively small fry compared to the £27 billion that would (if we weren’t all ‘locked-down’) be collected annually via fuel duty from the more than 30 million internal combustion engined cars that are on the UK’s roads. Even though sales have been picking up for electric vehicles compared with petrol and diesel models they still make up only a small fraction of the total vehicle parc.

So for the next year or two the Chancellor might be down only a few hundred million pounds of fuel duty income. But the Chancellor’s headache of how to fund the government’s spending commitments will get markedly worse as a consequence of last year’s decision to announce a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, just under a decade from now. £27 billion of income evaporating before their eyes is surely enough to make even the calmest of Chancellors sit up and take notice. As the saying goes, a billion here and a billion there and suddenly you’re talking real money.

Yet if the Chancellor is to retain his income from drivers – which is a choice, but one that, not being much of a gambler, I would confidently bet on, then long term he needs to consider a whether a new system of taxation might do the trick.

Step forward the proponents of road pricing. Now there’s a term to conjur with.

It pays to be very, very clear what exactly we mean when we say ‘road pricing’. At its simplest we might be referring to a tolled road. Or, next up, a scheme to charge motorists a set amount for each road-mile travelled over a variety of roads. But for economists, the object of desire is the far more sophisticated, and complicated, version that adjusts the amount payable in relation to when and where the mileage is done, reflecting, it says here, the external social marginal cost that trip imposes (i.e. by causing congestion and polluting the environment).

The Foundation previously nailed its colours to the mast of creating a distance charge, supporting, as we did, Gary Raccuja’s winning entry in the 2017 Wolfson Economics Prize. The proposition, developed in answer to the question of whether there might be a better way to pay for roads, advocated a system where per-mile fees would be applied, with the option of their being collected via drivers’ insurance premiums, allied to the earmarking of a set proportion of income to be reserved for spending on roads. But that is probably not the question foremost in the current Chancellor’s mind. Spending on roads is just one of a mighty long list of things pleading for his largesse.

Of course, the Chancellor does have the option of deciding that the growing hole in his finances is actually a price worth paying when set against the vast benefits of saving the planet with the help of green vehicles. He could set a long-term policy that taxes low-emission vehicles significantly less than more polluting legacy vehicles we’ve been used to driving, to give the growth of the electric car market a major boost.

But if, as seems likely, the question the Chancellor is asking is how best to ensure motorists continue to cough up money to pay for roads, and schools, and hospitals, then we would counsel making simplicity the watchword . The scale of the task involved in introducing a new tax payable by tens of millions of people on a variable basis set so as to raise billions of income, replacing a system in fuel duty that has the lowest cost of collection of any tax, ever, should not be underestimated. Not impossible. After all, scientists have just put a vehicle onto the surface of Mars. But, like Mars, the risk register for such an initiative would, we think, be a vibrant, glowing bright red.

If driving is to continue to come at a fiscal cost to the motorist then we’d advise the Chancellor to focus on those vehicles that would otherwise be getting a free pass – a subset of the parc not the whole fleet. Not easy when for environmental reasons the imperative is to encourage their take-up. The risk of sending mixed messages is high. But so is the risk of encouraging electric vehicle take-up on a false prospectus.

If a road user charge is on the horizon for zero emission vehicles then working through the detail of how and by whom that charge would be set and collected should surely start right now.

Steve Gooding is Director of the RAC Foundation and a confirmed speaker at Highways UK running at the NEC, Birmingham on 3/4 November 2021

Using AI to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on our Highways

Using AI to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on our Highways

Author: Peter Mildon – COO and Co-Founder, Vivacity Labs

Peter Mildon, COO and Co-Founder of Vivacity Labs, has been reviewing data from Vivacity’s national network of AI-based video road sensors to assess the impact of Covid-19 on our highways networks on a daily basis, and considers what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be on the UK’s transport habits in light of the climate emergency.

When we founded Vivacity in late 2015, one of our objectives was to make a positive impact to the way people used the roads in the UK. Our initial focus was on developing a cyclist sensor capable of operating on a truly multi-modal road space, in the hope that it would be used to encourage the modal shift away from polluting vehicles towards active travel. 

Almost as a by-product of needing to positively identify other modes in order to differentiate them from cyclists, our sensor diversified into the full multi-modal sensor it is today. In 2016, we won Highways UK’s Intelligent Infrastructure Hub competition for the new technology most likely to revolutionise the transport industry.

At the time, I never imagined that the sensor network we had started to grow would prove so useful in helping at a time of national crisis, and less still that it would be used to monitor the impact government messaging aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist numbers in urban areas.

Over the past two weeks, we have been monitoring the impact on road usage during the Covid-19 outbreak. By Wednesday 25 March, there had been a 60% reduction in traffic across the country. While some regions saw a quicker reduction in traffic numbers than others last week, since the lockdown on Monday 23 March, this reduction has been remarkably uniform from city to city, and from urban area to highway. Analysing the change by mode also yielded some interesting results:

•          Pedestrians saw the largest drop off at 80% 

•          Car traffic dropped by 60%

•          Cyclists initially dropped very slowly, but since Monday have now dropped by 75%

•          Light Goods vehicles dropped by 45%

•          Initially there was no change seen in Motorbike or HGV volumes, but since Monday they have dropped by 65% and 40% respectively

•          Even buses have now dropped by 40% since the lockdown, indicating significant reductions in public transport services

The results clearly presented a drop in total traffic, but also a modal shift towards home deliveries.

Michael Vardi from Valerann, the 2017 Intelligent Infrastructure Hub winner, has reported similar traffic level drops from Israel and Spain, where Valerann’s Smart Road System is also monitoring traffic movements.

In Oxfordshire, we decided to push the analysis further. Our sensor network here has not just been recording the volume of traffic, but also the path that each road user was taking across the space. We decided to post-process the data to calculate if social distancing measures were being followed. 

Example of measurement between pedestrians calculated with pedestrians coming within 2m of each other counted from stock footage. Red shows <2m; Yellow 2-3m; and green >3m

It has been discussed a lot in the media recently whether the government should be using mobile data to monitor social distancing. Many people are concerned that such an invasion of civil liberties might not be un-done once the crisis was over. This type of video analysis provides an alternative, which is non-invasive from a privacy perspective and offers a much higher resolution on the social distancing measurement. By using edge processing, no personal data is ever generated by the system – no videos are transmitted or stored, and the AI never knows who it saw. Instead we are able simply to acquire the data that is needed to help the Government make decisions on how its lockdown policy should adapt next. 

Number of pedestrians passing within 2m of another pedestrian within the field of view of our 78 sensors in Oxfordshire per 5 minutes. Blue: Week commencing 8 March, Orange: Week commencing 15 March, Green: Week commencing 22 March. Data provided up to 24 March

The social distancing analysis showed that by 24 March, less than 48 hours after the Prime Minister announced a lockdown, peak daily pedestrian interactions had dropped by 70%, and the morning rush-hour peak was no longer discernible.

Clearly, Covid-19 is having a profound impact on all of our daily lives and has changed the approach to work for the majority of the UK work force. The question remains; what happens when all of this is over? Will everyone go back to their daily commute, or will companies finally realise that work can be done just as efficiently, and just as securely from home? 

Given the climate emergency, I hope we don’t see road traffic demand bounce back to the ‘pre-Covid’ peaks. I was also reassured to see that demand for cycling initially held up compared with other non-delivery modes – perhaps this has encouraged some individuals to try cycling rather than take public transport, at least in the early stages of social distancing. When this is all over, hopefully some positives can grow from this major international crisis. 


Building an electric vehicle charging grid for all

Building an electric vehicle charging grid for all

Author: Alistair Hunter – Director for Infrastructure Advisory, Arup

Alistair Hunter

Five years from now, low emission vehicles – predominantly electric vehicles (EVs) – will be transforming the streets of our cities… but only if these new vehicles have somewhere to charge. How can cities, infrastructure owners and transport authorities make joined-up decisions around EV charging infrastructure to reap the benefits of low emission vehicles?

The right location

Cities are densely populated. Owners of EVs won’t have driveways in which to charge their cars, and will need lots of public charge points – whether during the journey or at the destination. Applying our modelling and analysis to one UK city, we’ve estimated it needs to expand its existing charging network by 500% in the next five years to help it meet its aspirations for a cleaner, lower-carbon future. Across the world, from LA to New Delhi, every city faces this problem. So, where should these charge points be located?

Let the data speak

If everyone is to benefit from the coming EV revolution, city authorities urgently need to lead a collaborative effort to install the right number of charging points in the right places. A data-driven collaboration between different city bodies and stakeholders – transport authorities, regeneration teams and energy distribution network operators – will enable municipalities and local authorities to implement an EV charging network that works for everyone.

City authorities already have access to data on socio-economic factors such as the types of housing in different areas, and to transport data that plots the origins and destinations of people’s journeys. Combining this data in a detailed model can provide a picture of how many charging points are needed, the types required for the likely mix of vehicles, the benefits that could be derived from charge points in different locations and the likely demands on the energy network.

Modelling demand

We’ve created a detailed model that combines socio-economic, housing, transport data, with EV adoption rates and vehicle performance data. These data points are brought together in a proprietary demand model to provide a detailed picture of EV charging demand through the day, across an entire city. This allows us to test different scenarios and create masterplans integrating EV charging demand, with charge point placement and grid capacity.

Don’t leave it to the market

Taking a network-wide approach is vital. Municipalities and city authorities could leave installing chargers entirely up to commercial charging companies. This is too important to leave to the market alone, or indeed to any single body. It’s not clear that the market will ensure a cross section of society has access to charging – firms could potentially cherry pick the most profitable locations. It’s also doubtful the market would investigate how electric buses (which Arup is studying for a city in the UK), could share their charging infrastructure with private cars.

Charging infrastructure has implications for issues like air quality, decarbonisation and more broadly a city’s reputation, everyone needs to be involved. Ideally, this means local government creating an EV masterplan focused on achieving the widest-ranging benefits and supported by the whole community.

Preparing for plug in

* Charging infrastructure is key to EV take-up and needs to support different road users with different behaviours.

* On-street charging in residential areas will not happen at pace or scale. People without off-street parking need destination and en-route charging to convince them to use EVs.

* City authorities need to take a leading role in creating a joined-up plan for installing EV charge points, otherwise coverage will be patchy. And they urgently need a lot more charge points.

* Modelling combines city data to help define the optimum number, type and location of charge points.

Alistair Hunter is a Director for Infrastructure Advisory at Arup. Alistair will be exploring these themes further as part of the Cities session in the Main Theatre on 7 November


Creating a legacy of continuous improvement

Creating a legacy of continuous improvement

Author: Jon Cole, Head of Pavement Efficiency and Productivity, Highways England

Jon Cole

Our pavement efficiency journey started with a workshop in September 2015 in recognition that the way we delivered pavement needed to contribute significantly to the RIS1 capital efficiency KPI (target £1.2BN). Representatives from our Operations Directorate and our supply chain were present, and this set the context and agenda for how the Pavement Efficiency Group or PEG, as it affectionately became known, would work to challenge both Highways England and the supply chain to recognise efficiency opportunities through the delivery of pavement works.

Our story is one of technical excellence and true collaboration with the supply chain to enable pavement efficiencies across the different delivery programmes of Highways England; and, to align their goals to the safety, customer and delivery imperatives of Highway England.

As a delivery team we’ve tried to think of this as a change programme, we always knew that the technical side was only part of what we had to deliver; engaging with delivery teams, and especially designers, to buy in to what we were proposing was the challenge. We’ve occasionally found it difficult to get passed traditional ways of thinking and this has shaped our engagement, making it simple, visual and impactful so our messages were clear and connected to the overall objective of achieving the challenge of KPI7.

We’ve created technical content in an engaging way through digital integration that forms the basis of our engagement approach and we have embraced different media to share our message and ideas across the entire pavement delivery community. We’ve used lean tools to help our outward facing engagement and planning and adopted simple, visual and engaging content that is easy to understand and implement. Our single source of content is hosted in Prezi and can be accessed by anyone; it is live and periodically reviewed and updated.

Our pavement efficiency levers have been tailored to align with the definition of an efficiency in the Efficiency and Inflation Monitoring Manual which governs our work and we have developed 37 levers that can be used either in isolation or in combination depending on the project or delivery function. Working jointly with SES from an early stage was key to the long-term success of PEG, to ensure that they were supportive of what we were promoting. As a result, we structured the project with our lead technical expertise partnered with SES gaining their strategic alignment.

To promote the levers, the team has embedded itself in the various efficiency meetings around the country, and across all delivery programmes, gaining a unique insight into the different challenges of individual projects and programmes; actively sharing knowledge across them. This had led to cross programme learning and the adoption of several efficiency levers in different programmes.

The pavement efficiency technical partner has engaged directly with over 50 delivery teams across Major Projects and Operations programmes. Part of our engagement is to discover best practice and we’ve taken the best practice from Operations and shared it with Major Projects and vice versa whilst adding these ideas to our toolkit.

To date £352m pavement efficiencies have been level 2 assured with a further c£70m awaiting assurance. These efficiencies are evidenced through project level efficiency registers and validated by the Central Efficiency Group. In exceeding the challenging target of £350m in this RIS period, positions our team well to continue sharing best practices in pavement delivery to also continue meeting the efficiency targets of future Road Investment periods, having created a legacy of continuous improvement.

Jon Cole, Head of Pavement Efficiency and Productivity, Highways England

Jon along with James Burdall, Associate Director of AECOM, will explore some of the technical innovations achieved through PEG within the Civils and Materials Dome at 16.30 on 6 November. Additionally Jon will address the process of achieving a step change, at the Burges Salmon stage at 13.30 on 7 November


A new source of road construction data

A new source of road construction data

Author: Tony Gosling – Chief Digital Officer, Pell Frischmann

Tony Gosling

The design of highway schemes would be improved if designers and decision makers could easily understand the cost, time, risk and disruption impacts of individual design choices

The traditional process doesn’t work like that. Designers work with little to no data on the real-life impact of options, then costing and time scheduling are done separately after the design without the trade-offs between time and cost being visible.

We find that elapsed time in construction is often a more significant driver of costs than traditional estimating process allows for; costs of the project team, road closure and equipment are all proportional to time and, in some cases, work expands to fill the time available and delays ripple through to all on-site labour as productivity drops.

This is something that we, in Pell Frischmann, have been trying to change. With an approach we call 5D Way of Working (5D WoW), a digitally enabled process that brings rapidly available time and cost information into a more iterative workflow, and brings design for constructability, value and maintainability into focus. In our work on buildings, we find that this can drive a better value design and construction process, reduce the duration of construction and reduce the disruption to road users.

One of the major issues we must solve to make the 5DWoW process work is having decent data on the actual costs and time of similar projects to use in estimating. Captured data in the industry, often stuck in a project data silo, can’t easily be combined and is not structured consistently, thus is hard to compare. Even the simple act of comparing the project estimates with the project actuals, as well as understanding why the project is late and over budget, is rarely done. If we want to get better at estimating and designing, then being able to learn continuously from each project and feeding that knowledge back into better estimates and better designs is crucial.

A new source of road construction data that we are starting to make use of can be collected using drones and processed automatically in the cloud into survey grade, accurate progress tracking for large linear infrastructure like highways.

We are working with the pioneering tech company Datumate that has developed market-leading drone and project cloud processing services that measure progress and variance between as-designed and as-built. It is usually cheaper than traditional surveys, but also generates more rich and consistent data. Deutsche Bahn have been using Datumate to monitor rail construction, both for progress, and for quality and to deliver as-built data. The system even allows project managers to ‘go back in time’ to see what the site looked like and make measurements that you didn’t know you were going to need – this can be very helpful in resolving claims and disputes.

Using that sort of data from drones, processed by a cloud service, for measuring progress on highways projects better will help enhance project delivery. Then using that data to improve estimating and design decisions in future projects can make a huge difference to delivering cost-effective highway schemes on time.

Whether you agree or disagree, or want to understand more about what drone data can be used for Pell Frischmann and Datumate will be at Highways UK; join us for a coffee at the Recharge Lounge.

Tony Gosling is Chief Digital Officer at Pell Frischmann. John Pickworth, Pell Frischmann’s Intelligent Transport Director and Tal Meirzon, CEO, of Datumate will explore this exciting application of drone technology at speaking at the Burges Salmon Stage on Thursday 7 November at 12.40.


Putting customers first

Putting customers first

Author: Richard Bowen, Highways Stakeholder and Public Liaison Manager, Mott MacDonald

Richard Bowen

As Highways England builds on strong foundations as a construction-led organisation, focusing on the needs and satisfaction of its customers, their supply chain partners are also being asked to make customers a priority in all the design and build work they undertake. It’s clear that a customer revolution is underway at Highways England. 

Its Customer imperative has come to the fore and improving customer satisfaction is a priority. Broadly defining customers as road users and communities located close to the Strategic Road Network, Highways England has committed to firm customer principles. Their ambition is to improve customer satisfaction across a range of areas, including improving journey time reliability, displaying better road signage and addressing customer frustrations caused by roadworks.

Each year Highways England reviews their customers’ priorities to ensure they are addressing common frustrations. The expectation is that supply chain partners will align themselves by developing and implementing design and build solutions to actively target the sources of customer complaints. 

It’s a tough ask of a supply chain that is deeply rooted in an engineering culture guided by practical design standards and building regulations. Highways England is asking searching questions of supply chain applicants, such as how they will adapt their cultures so that customer requirements are part of everything they do. It’s turned things upside down and forced their supply chain to look both outwards and inwards at activities that haven’t changed or been questioned in a generation.

As suppliers to Highways England, Mott MacDonald has had to consider how we have worked previously and how we can transform our culture successfully to provide highways solutions and services that are not just buildable and provide value for money, but also contribute directly towards improved customer satisfaction. It is also about helping to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by embedding them into our activities, such as supporting economic growth and improved competitiveness across all regions (goal 8) and delivering resilient infrastructure and innovative solutions to maximise value from public investment (goal 9).

We started by considering how we engage effectively with Highways England customers to gain a breadth of insight that is representative of road users and communities. Always more difficult to engage effectively with road users, a notoriously itinerant and time-constrained customer group, targeted communications channels and messages are needed to be successful! Rarely a one size fits all methodology, each campaign requires creative thinking to be employed.

A recent Mott MacDonald campaign made use of Highways England’s Twitter feed and eye-catching graphics to capture the attention of drivers in Kent. When we analysed the feedback, we were pleased to see that 80% of the responses were received online, largely from customers that identified themselves primarily as road users. We were provided with insights that are very different from the viewpoints often heard at local community events. 

While it’s incredibly helpful to gain customer insights that represent a broader range of interests, we need to ensure that those viewpoints are validated by more influential stakeholder groups. By discussing insights with the likes of local authorities, local politicians and community groups, we can establish understanding and develop effective relationships through which a highways scheme can be more easily progressed.

This is the point at which we need to look at the other side of the coin. To ensure validated customer insights can be incorporated into scheme designs and builds, as a supply chain we need to focus inwards. Nobody’s suggesting there’s a reason to rip up the existing rulebooks, but we can design and build better roads by embedding validated customer insights into design and construction. Positive design interventions involving safety are long established within our industry and we need to think the same way about customers during planning and delivery stages. 

How we manage roadworks is a good example. Consistently cited by customers as a main source of frustration, we can improve customers’ experiences of roadworks through joined-up thinking and innovation. If insights tell us that a traffic management solution will be unpopular with customers, we aim to work together to provide a more acceptable alternative. Where options are limited, we can work smarter to explain the need for roadworks to customers, to provide clear information, and to highlight the benefits that will be realised for road users and communities once the works are completed.

Customers are the lifeblood of the highways sector. Yet too often they have remained hidden in plain sight. By adopting opportunities, including technology advances that provide us with abilities to develop customer centric solutions, we have a catalyst to develop and mature an industry-wide customer culture that impacts positively on customer satisfaction. Highways England is leading the way, their supply chain must follow. 

Richard Bowen is the Highways Stakeholder and Public Liaison Manager at Mott MacDonald      




Never, never, never give up

Never, never, never give up

Author: Karla Wakeman, Innovation Lead for Connected Transport, Innovate UK

Karla Wakeman

Winston Churchill once said “never, never, never give up”. A good moto for us all and often applies to finding funding for your projects and innovations.

We witness this often at Innovate UK and although it can mean something as simple as the funding pot for that competition ran dry, as frustrating as it can be, the feedback from our expert, independent assessors can often be instrumental in making sure you are at the top for the next funding pot.

Our process is thorough but not always simplistic, nor should it be as we offer millions of pounds of tax payers money so want it to be transparent and effective to get the best projects funded.

So what can you do to give yourselves the best shot? 

Assessors are always keen to see the value for money. Whether you are asking for £10k or £10m, does your application clearly demonstrate maximum return on the investment? Assessors are a savvy bunch and if you are asking for £10m for something which should cost £9m, they will pick it up.

With the current political climate, we are always on the lookout for projects which can go large when it comes to international opportunities.

·      Does your project have the potential to be world leading?

·      Closer to home, can it be successfully exploited in the UK?

In my experience as an Innovation Lead, the best projects look at exploitation from not just day one but way before as part of the application. Plans change, but to demonstrate you have considered exploitation shows project potential.

Read the scope

Another common mistake is where the innovation is not at the right stage of development for the particular competition. If the competition states it is looking to fund ready-to-go pilots, if you apply with a feasibility study proposal, you won’t be funded and will be considered out of scope.

Check the scope clearly, especially where TRL (Technology readiness Levels) are mentioned.

You might not be applying to us for public funds but regardless, the next piece of advice should still be considered.

·      Why should public money be spent on this? (Or in the case of private funding, why should they invest?)

It is imperative that you can define this and explain the additionality that will be achieved. What are you offering that others aren’t?

If you clearly define the above whilst answering the questions in the application (many don’t!), you will be on your way to joining thousands of successfully funded projects such as those funded by Highways England through Innovate UK.

Highways England and SBRI

An SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) enables government departments like Highways England to connect with technology organisations, finding innovative solutions to specific public sector challenges and needs.

In this instance, Highways England is investing up to £20 million across two parallel SBRI competitions to develop innovative ideas and solutions. These projects have been funded to change the way UK roads are designed, managed and used and the 23 successful projects will be displaying on our Innovation Hub at Highways UK. 

The scope of this competition was purposely broad covering the following themes:-

·      Theme 1: Design, construction and maintenance – Construction site safety and efficiency

·      Theme 2: Connected and Autonomous Vehicles – Getting roads ready for AV including maintenance vehicles

·      Theme 3: Customer Mobility – Improved customer experience

·      Theme 4: Energy & Environment  – Energy savings, noise, circular economy

·      Theme 5: Operations – Managing road demand and quality

·      Theme 6: Air Quality

In the competition process, the 23 projects which have been funded embraced the challenges that Highways England are trying to solve. They demonstrated value for money for Highways England, exploitation potential and clear additionality over and above the normal course of business.

At Innovate UK, we use our tried and tested competition process to drive productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. It is rare that any two competitions are the same as we always strive for excellence but for certain, when it comes to supporting getting the best innovative projects for UK Plc, we never, never, never give up.

Karla Jakeman is Innovation Lead for Connected Transport at Innovate UK, Highways UK’s Innovation Partner. Come to the Innovation Hub to meet representatives and learn more about many of the successful projects from the recent Highways England SBRI competitions.


Connecting the Constructors

Connecting the Constructors

Author: Neil Williams – Engineering & Infrastructure Segment Manger, Leica Geosystems

Neil Williams

Despite the current political uncertainty, we are seeing record investment from Highways England channelled through initiatives such as the Regional Development Partnership frameworks and the Smart Motorways Programme.

This investment is vital because our strategic roads network is one of the most valuable national assets we have. It is fundamental to economic growth.

The problem we face is that major projects are notoriously risky, complex, costly and high-profile. Experience tells us they are prone to exceeding budget and are broadly, extremely challenging to deliver. What compounds this outlook is that more than four million people rely on the Highways England strategic road network every day and that figure is set to rise by 40% from now to 2040.

Attempting to deliver this ambitious pipeline of work without refreshing our approach to construction will create major impacts across the country. Major projects will continue to be known as challenging, costly and ultimately, risky investments. This will mean that future investment will come into question and potentially put the country behind.

As a manufacturer looking at the industry, we are seeing wonderful pockets of innovation that are beginning to overcome the well-versed challenges facing major projects. Whether that is by streamlining workflows, increasing the ability to share accurate data between different teams or driving collaboration across multiple stakeholders.

At Highways UK this year we will be hosting the people and the organisations who are overcoming these challenges. You will hear from Skanska’s Survey Manager Mark Lawton presenting connected construction and smart paving. We will also be joined by Severn Partnership’s Managing Director Rollo Rigby highlighting mobile mapping on the A38 and Getmapping’s Business Manager Neil Rennie showcasing motorway surveys on the M20.

Join them, hear their story and understand their approach on stand B60. Follow @LeicaGeo_UKI on Twitter for the latest timetable updates.

You’ll find our full programme of events at Leica Geosystems’ stand within the exhibitor events listings

Neil Williams is Engineering & Infrastructure Segment Manger at Leica Geosystems


It’s time to get to grips with digital

It’s time to get to grips with digital

Author: Lesley Waud – Transport Design Development Director, SNC-Lavalin Atkins

Lesley Waud

By people, I really mean a culture and a mindset: a perception by many that doing things ‘digitally’ is a threat to long-held technical specialism or expertise. But I don’t see it in those terms. To me, the risk is in us not helping people embrace the benefits of using digital systems and processes in their work. As leaders, it’s up to us to empower our teams to use technology as an enabler, and it’s up to us to have the appetite and desire to show leadership as to why doing things differently now matters.

That means upskilling our workforce and helping people who may be resistant to change by providing the right support and opportunities for them to develop. It’s about reassuring them that digital transformation isn’t a threat, but an opportunity to learn new skills to equip us to face the digital future. If we don’t tackle this issue now, the discourse will continue to be dominated by those that would rather tell you all the reasons for not doing something, rather than finding ways you can – which alienates those who are eager to adopt new technology, and who are snapping at our heels to use it.

When we deploy digital processes to carry out repetitive activities it frees up our valuable time and lets us focus on what really adds value for our clients. At a recent presentation to clients, an Atkins engineer told of how he and his team had developed a simple algorithm that could come up with literally thousands of design options in a fraction of the time it would take for them to develop one design had they been using traditional, passive methods. The algorithm now helps inform their decisions at each stage of the design process – while outsourcing the time-consuming task of data processing – so that the team can dedicate more of their time to what’s important: validating the findings, assessing the best options, and improving the ultimate final design. In short, applying their expertise to the higher-value end area of the process.

Embracing digital doesn’t mean the prestige of a career in design and engineering is diminished. Today, we are fortunate that we have game-changing digital technology to support our tasks, that many before us simply haven’t had access to, so let’s capitalise on that, and use it to our advantage.

The second barrier to digital transformation within our industry is commercial models, and how they are structured; in fact, in my view this is a serious barrier to digital transformation happening at all. This is where we must start thinking very differently: we need to reshape commercial models, root and branch, a tough ask, perhaps, as many clients are still comfortable with current models based on unit cost and input of effort, as opposed to thinking how, as an industry, we might link cost instead to the value of the service. We need to redistribute value earlier in the process and capitalise on the benefit of doing so.

We need to start asking how we can create components and constituent parts of a project – supported by digital transformation – that are compatible and that can be configured more intelligently so they have a life afterwards. We need to be asking: how could we break a project down into components that allow an element of selection, for example, like choosing from a car brochure, without reverting to bespoke designs for every element, and whereby certain design elements can be reused?

Take motorway construction, for example: there’s a perception that if you have a one-size-fits-all approach, you’d be wasting material because it would be overdesigned for the majority of circumstances. But in reality, we know that we don’t necessarily save material by designing precise components for a single location due to the challenges we face on site in achieving a consistent quality in variable conditions and not using surplus materials – for example, the partial concrete load that goes to waste. By manufacturing a standardised solution, offsite, even if it’s going to be oversized in some circumstances, it will have been manufactured in a very controlled environment, and with very precise material quantities and quality control. So already, significantly less material is wasted compared with building it from scratch on-site.

However, if payment and the measurement of value is linked to time and materials, we will not recover the considerable investments we are making and will continue to make in transforming our industry.  A single standard solution that will add considerable benefit needs to have its value linked to the outcomes it enables rather than the input effort in creating and, importantly, maintaining the relevance of the product and we all need to work together to create long-term sustainable future models for our industry.

The good news is, some of our clients’ responses to the government’s agenda to do things differently and drive productivity have been very positive. We are already seeing some good, early examples of commercial models that incentivise suppliers, based on results. I believe our clients want more digital solutions to infrastructure questions, and that they want to improve productivity. But to get this right in the long term we need to get real and stop mixing old-world commercial models and behaviours with new expectations.

If we’re serious about innovative solutions, we must grasp the opportunities of working to innovative commercial models – and that means being emboldened by the transformative powers of digital technology, not threatened by it. When we do so, we will not only uphold our professional status, but it will also mean we may collectively share in the added-value of a project’s lifecycle.

Seven things we can start doing right now…

1.         See digital as a game-changer that can support traditional roles

2.         Understand, guide and develop those fearful of change

3.         Foster new digital behaviours and upskilling, such as knowledge-sharing

4.         Reshape commercial models to encourage digital ways of working

5.         Use digital to encourage value through standardising components

6.         Use digital to behave and act more sustainably

7.         Procure services in smarter and more sustainable ways

Lesley Waud is design development director for transportation at Atkins, part of the SNC-Lavalin Group. Lesley will be exploring these themes further as part of the Big Thinking programme at Highways UK on 6/7 November.


Future mobility, made possible

Future mobility, made possible

Author: John Batten – Global Cities Director, Arcadis

John Batten

By 2050, more than two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, and this rapid rise in urbanisation will dramatically reshape how we live our lives. From climate change to mobility, the impact of population growth means we will need to rethink many of the ways in which we, as citizens, interact with our environment, says John Batten, Global Cities Director at Arcadis

Cities everywhere are grappling with congestion, overcrowding, poor air quality and the need to drive greater prosperity and competitiveness. Our experience of a city often comes down to how easy it is to move around, yet with transport contributing to 20% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and 7 million people dying from air pollution every year, the challenges are clear.

Is there a solution?

Seamless, Connected and Sustainable Mobility

The answer to a seamless transport experience lies in the smart application of technology. New innovations and low carbon solutions that can be integrated with and complement the existing transport network offer the best opportunity for progress. However, this can only be effective if the needs of the citizen are put at the heart of future transport plans.

Numerous emerging trends will have an impact. From Artificial Intelligence and drone technology disrupting first and last mile delivery, to the reduction in car ownership and the rise of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) and Mobility as a Service (Maas), success ultimately depends on how a city aligns its vision with the citizen experience.

Postcards from around the world

We are already seeing some exciting interventions happening in cities all around the world.

We are working with the city of Amsterdam to design and procure a MaaS solution for their Zuidas business district. A MaaS service makes it easier for people to plan, book, pay for and access a range of different transport modes with a single App. Our work included business engagement to achieve agreement from 15 of the largest employers in the region to combine their ‘buying power’ for the MaaS solution; creating a demonstration service (an “experiment”) to challenge employees to give up their car for a month to experience MaaS, generate early adopter advocates and to capture essential user feedback to input to the procurement approach; and consultancy support for the MaaS procurement.

As people start making smarter choices about how they move, we hope to see a reduction in the pressure on the crowded road network in Amsterdam’s business district, improving air quality, and helping citizens to be happier, healthier and more connected.

New York is also a city feeling the strain of population growth and an overburdened transport network. With people living in increasingly close proximity, buildings often don’t have the space to store or recycle waste. The result is that, in one day alone, up to 34 waste trucks are traversing four boroughs to service businesses in a neighbourhood where the infrastructure is already straining under the weight of demand.

In response, we used our digital knowledge to develop a waste collection strategy that made better use of existing resources. Based on a simulation model, we found that a zoned approach would reduce truck traffic by a staggering 18 million miles a day. A simple approach, with a significant outcome.

Putting future mobility into practice

There are some huge opportunities for UK cities to benefit. Turning our attention closer to home, Cardiff’s new electric vehicle strategy demonstrates how an ambitious city is upping its mobility game.

Government policy dictates that all new cars and vans will need to be Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) by 2040, yet Cardiff has significantly fewer charge points compared to other core cities. The council needed to develop an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging network across the while city, leading by example by cleaning up its own fleet. This is a large, wholescale change that can only be achieved through collaboration with key partners, ensuring the EV agenda sits alongside a much wider sustainable transport strategy.

The step-by-step guide we used to help Cardiff Council offers a blueprint that can help any city review its future mobility strategy.

A 6-Step Guide

1. Using the City’s vision as a starting point, define detailed objectives.

2. Review the current market.

3. Develop an appropriate stakeholder engagement strategy. Who needs to be part of the decision-making process?

4. Establish business and operating models that will work long-term.

5. Enable rollout. Is the plan seamless, does it meet required standards, and does it provide the best user experience?

6. Manage & maintain. Reliability is key to user confidence.

With just a few practical measures, future mobility – designed around the needs of the citizen – can become a reality.

John Batten is Global Cities Director at Arcadis. He is speaking on the Burges Salmon stage at Highways UK offering further observations on Big thinking from big cities, radical ideas on mobility from around the world. His colleague Tom Morgan is also presenting on Cardiff’s EV transition with Andrew Gregory, Director of Environment, Planning and Transport at Cardiff City Council, in the main theatre.


Myth busting in the freight industry

Myth busting in the freight industry

Author: Elizabeth de Jong, Policy Director, FTA

Elizabeth de Jong

As the voice of the UK logistics industry, in the last quarter alone, FTA’s team met with 150 civil servants, regulators and elected officials. Since the logistics industry plays such a vital role in the UK economy – contributing £124 billion gross value added (GVA) – it is important that planners, government and decision makers have a thorough understanding of the sector. However, FTA is faced with commonly held views about freight that are simply not true. These misconceptions can lead to proposals and decisions based on false assumptions; here are the five most common.

Myth one: “It’s dirty HGVs that cause our air quality problem.” 

The reality: Unlike diesel cars, lorries have worked to an on-road test since the start of 2014. These Euro VI engines have reduced air quality emissions from the tailpipe by 80-90%, according to roadside tests by the likes of Transport for London. This is on top of already substantial improvements from when the logistics industry started working on this problem in the early 1990s. These efforts are partly why UK air quality is improving year on year and has been for some time.

Myth two: “There are loads of lorries running around empty or half full – if we just had consolidation we’d need far fewer trucks.”

The reality: Logistics is highly incentivised to load as optimally as possible. The UK already has one of the most efficient freight systems of any developed country, with lower empty-running than the EU average (lower, too, than the supposedly more efficient Germany). Many operations could never take a return-trip load (such as tankers delivering to petrol stations), and it is the reality of our society that we import in or make goods across the country that then need taking into our towns and cities to be consumed – meaning there will always be an imbalance in the movement of goods.

Myth three: “Online shopping means our towns and cities are now clogged up with vans.” 

The reality: Only a minority of vans are actually used to carry freight. An RAC Foundation report in 2014 found the most common use for vans was for carrying equipment; only just over a quarter of van mileage was for the delivery or collection of goods. Only one in 10 vans on the road are parcel vans, and in London it is estimated that vans servicing online shopping orders account for just 1.5% of traffic. This may have changed a little as online shopping has grown, but the broad picture will remain the same.

Myth four: “We could just do urban logistics by bike or e-cargo bike.” 

The reality: We move 2.5 million tonnes of goods into our towns and cities everyday by HGV. Ultra-light logistics like e-cargo bikes are great and can help in particular places (like pedestrianised high streets, public squares serving blocks of flats) but they won’t make a dent in the tonnage we actually need to move, which means they can’t help much on congestion, emissions or safety matters. One medium-sized HGV can do the work of 10 vans, one van can do the work of 10 e-cargo bikes – we need to use the right vehicle for the right journey or we will clog up our streets far more.

Myth five: “Rail is an out-of-date method for freight and we should give its space on the railways to more passenger services.”

The reality: Weirdly, this notion was put forward by the former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis. A major growth area that the UK needs to deal with is containerised traffic from our deep-sea ports and, as they are uniform in size and originate from one set point, these movements are well suited to rail. Each freight train can take 70 HGVs off our motorways and provide a carbon saving of up to 76% on that one movement, so good for other road users and the environment.

However, for rail freight to thrive, it needs road transport to provide last mile access. One of rail freight’s biggest challenges is the net difference in product payload between road transport alone and a combined road/rail approach. FTA is supporting the ’48 tonnes for 48 miles’ campaign by Malcolm Logistics. Just by allowing an increase in tonnes for 48 miles around a rail terminal, it is estimated the resulting annual net reduction in road transport would be in excess of 70 million gross tonne miles.

The logistics sector is the lifeblood of the nation’s economy. Decision makers must be in a position to make fully informed choices about the future of freight. FTA will continue to help government to do so by dispelling these common misconceptions. To learn more about FTA’s campaign work, please visit

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.  A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.

Elizabeth de Jong is speaking at Highways UK, which is at the NEC, Birmingham on 6/7 November.