Transforming the narrative for better local roads

by | Nov 1, 2018 | Construction, Policy

Costing £400Bn, local roads are the UK’s most valuable asset. As trades routes, roads they have been the life blood of economies for millennia. Thanks to buses, cars, coaches, bikes and walking, roads make possible access to education, health care and work.

More complex journeys and mode choices are possible on historic roads but with it have come the disease of obesity, toxic air and congestion – costing the UK over £50Bn each and every year. As one of Europe’s largest economies, Britain also has the largest waistline.

A high quality public realm is therefore essential to support walking and cycling. This will release road capacity for medium and longer distance trips that have no current alternative.

Society is however changing and just as car use has dominated the last few decades so now we see the rise of Mobility as a Service, increased rail travel and a marked reduction in car use by those under 35 in our main cities.

The absence of a UK freight strategy causes poor policy and planning on interurban choices and the neglect of the ‘last mile’ impacts the heart of towns and villages. New thinking is needed to support buses.

Funding, innovation, and collaboration

As a result of successive Comprehensive Spending Reviews, the last decade has seen local authority revenue budgets reduce by as much as 40% which has affected front line service delivery. However, over this period Local Government and particularly Local Highway Authorities have adapted, and adopted new technology to overcome the challenges faced through new techniques and low cost interventions.

Our understanding and application of Asset Management has also radically improved decision making. Detailed choices can be more simply presented as to how, within a specified budget, different local outcomes can be modelled and long term value ensured.

Responding to the recent Transport Select Committee inquiry into the funding and governance of local roads, the Local Government Technical Advisors Group identified five key priorities that many in the industry recognise as key to future success:

· Redefine the Pothole Backlog

· Multiyear settlement

· TotEx: tackling the revenue Vs Capital dilemma

· One Single Funding Stream for Highway Authorities

· Future of Condition Surveys and Asset Information

The UK must grasp the 4th Industrial Revolution – faster fibre under our roads and streetlights for 5G and car charging. The pace of change and expectation on Councils for ever more innovative thinking continues to grow.

Building resilience into the way we work

“Transforming the Narrative” seeks to create fresh thinking that applies technology and transformation to how we create more mobility on better quality roads and footways. Aside from new approaches to funding we need a more resilient network.

To quote from the report, here are some of the areas we address:

“Society demands yet more from our aged asset and ever more utilities are placed under our roads and above our street lights. We must understand how we can safeguard travel and communication in light of increased demand and expectation but with ever growing fragility…

“There is a worrying lack of awareness as a sector on how to respond to ever more frequent and intense weather. The Met Office has now updated advice that states a severe weather event at least every three years and that will be 30% more intense. Our assets and our communities are ill equipped for this…

“Political geography is not the right scale to respond to major and sustained weather impacts. We need new and fresh thinking to scale up expertise to provide better response within limited funding. Winter maintenance must no longer be about snow ploughs and salt stocks but instead about multi skilled professionals working 24/7 to support communities during severe storms, floods and fires.”…

The report addresses 12 priorities and arms LGTAG and its members with practical means upon which existing roads and bridges can be upgraded in support of our aim of providing a decent basic service level for users of local roads and footways. Equally the report urges a re-think on how we build better mobility that offers a lower environmental footprint and reduces sedentary lifestyles.

The full report ‘Transforming the Narrative’ can be downloaded here

John Lamb is President of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group. John will be discussing these issues in the Future Proofing Local Authority Roads panel session in the Jacobs Main Theatre at 09.30 on 8 November.

LGTAG member Trevor Collett will be sharing his work ‘Measuring and monitoring the condition of our highway network, SRN and local’ at 11.10am in the Tarmac Materials and Asset Management Dome, also on 8 November.


John Lamb

John Lamb – President LGTAG