The first quarter of Highways UK’s annual cycle, at least from the speaker programme perspective, is relatively quiet which affords the luxury of time to reflect on the priorities and key areas for development over the coming year. It’s also quite a scary period in that the on-going evolution and continuing growth of Highways UK sets the bar ever higher and we are left pondering how we are going to top the progress achieved during the previous year. I guess it’s a nice problem to have…
With over 4,000 visitors and 180 exhibitors in 2018, Highways UK has grown three-fold on both these measures in just four years. Importantly, the quality of visitors, speakers and exhibitors has not been diluted by this exponential growth.
When it launched, Highways UK very much focused on the Strategic Road Network, the newly formed Highways England and opportunity from the Road Investment Strategy (RIS). While our relationship with Highways England remains an important foundation for the event, we have with each year significantly broadened our scope to bring in ever more key players active within the highways space. Typically we find that newly launched content areas develop the following year into something far more significant than initially envisaged.
For example, in our second year we provided the public launch platform for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund’s Major Road Network report, from which we have developed strong ties with the emerging Sub-national Transport Bodies. Extending this thinking to other asset owning authorities, by last year we had established vibrant content hubs covering the SRN, regional, local and city road networks and their attendant mobility challenges and solutions.
We have also majored on technology and innovation, initially with the launch of the intelligent infrastructure hub in 2016, followed by the materials innovation hub in 2018, both of which are challenge-based competitions that put innovators in direct contact with client authorities.
Last year also saw the launch of Meridian’s CAV showcase talks, which places road and digital infrastructure firmly centre-stage in the CAV journey.
This year will see the addition of a sustainability theatre sitting alongside the technology and materials & maintenance industry briefing theatres, providing an area dedicated to a broad range of roads related environmental issues, from improving air quality to reducing embedded carbon.
So what next? We know that self-driving and zero emission vehicles will have a profound effect on how we design, build and maintain the roads in the future; but innovations in digital technologies, materials and working practices offer benefits that can be realised right now.
By deepening our relationships with the likes of Meridian, CCAV, the Government Catapults, Innovate UK, DfT, HE, CIHT, IET, MPA, ADEPT, CECA and LGTAG, we will examine the blockers and enablers to how these disruptors and innovations are playing out in both the immediate and longer-term across the whole network. We will also build upon the national, regional, local and urban road owner hubs – and in support of this are delighted that Transport Scotland has confirmed it will be at the 2019 Highways UK in force.
Beyond this, we will work tirelessly to deliver an event that brings together the right people and organisations at scale in an environment that ignites ideas and relationships.
Despite the uncertain times, there are many reasons to be optimistic. The stable and high-level Investment in the SRN heralded by the first five-year RIS is set to continue and, as the 2018 Autumn Budget confirmed, will increase in RIS2.
There is even the potential of a significant and desperately needed change in fortune for local authorities on the horizon. In his Highways UK 2018 keynote, Roads Minister Jesse Norman announced what for many must have been the almost unimaginable: “In the coming years,” he said, “I want to go even further than the spending outlined in the Budget and move towards a transparent and strategic five-year settlement for local highways maintenance.”
The point is that transport infrastructure is central to the Government’s macro ambition. Speaking at the launch of the Government Office for Science’s Foresight Future of Mobility Report last week, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance noted that the UK is well placed to capitalise on the exciting opportunities offered by transport technologies and innovation which will benefit the economy, society and the citizen. “The Industrial Strategy and in particular the Mobility Grand Challenge will be central to helping us realise this ambition,” he says.
And transport, he adds, is more than just travel, in that it connects people and places and shapes the way we live: “We must grasp the opportunities to fully exploit our potential and create a transport system fit for the future. To be successful, industry, academia and policy-makers will need to work together, with the user at the heart of the system.”
All pointers, perhaps, for who you might meet and what they might be talking about at this year’s Highways UK in November.
Further information on Highways UK:
Exhibiting and sponsorship opportunities contact Andrew.Dowding@Highways-UK.com
Speaker opportunities contact Paul.Wheeler@Highways-UK.com
Got something to say? We publish Talking Heads blogs throughout the year and are looking for challenging and thought-provoking articles of around 600 words. Contact Paul.Wheeler@Highways-UK.com to pitch your idea.
Paul Wheeler – Content Director, Highways UK