Keeping roads in good repair

The Institute of Highway Engineers has called for local authority asset management plans to be made mandatory as part of urgent action to prevent local roads from falling into further disrepair. The organisation says developing and implementing appropriate asset management policies and plans at the local authority level is vital to the long-term strategic management of UK’s road network.
    
IHE President Richard Hayes said asset management is a business-like approach to road maintenance and urged local authorities to put these plans into place: “Asset management addresses the mix and timing of strategies including maintenance, operation and new construction, needed to guarantee optimal service levels on the network over the lifespan of its individual component assets.
    
“It encourages efficient use of limited funds and is estimated by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) to provide a minimum of five per cent savings over the long term for full implementation.
    
“However, many local authorities are looking to achieve greater returns with Cambridgeshire County Council’s recent highway asset management strategy expected to deliver them financial efficiency savings of up to 20 per cent in its budgets.
    
“Whilst additional funding is required to maintain UK’s road network, it is asset management plans and policies which are the neededin the long term to maximise these finances.
    
“A key recommendation of the IHE co-sponsored All Party Parliamentary Report into Highways Maintenance published in October 2013 was to make asset management plans mandatory in return for access to central government funds for road maintenance.
    
“It also recommended achieving a satisfactory steady state on UK roads to enable local authorities to start making planned and preventative maintenance over the long-term.  
    
“This will require both more and secure funding for periodic and structural maintenance, along with efficient use of funding through asset management principles.”

Regional requirements
Mr Hayes said asset management plans varied according to regional needs and could incorporate a range of long-term measures including: implementing asset management plans to support additional government funding; ensuring staff have the required competencies and skills to manage assets effectively; and utilising available funds and resources to reduce the worst defects on their local road network.
    
If possible, councils should implement permanent repair solutions that add value to the road network rather than relying on ‘sticking plaster’ short-term treatments to the road condition. Taking a long term view to highway maintenance will maximise the benefits.
    
Finally, gaining political support will allow councils the maximum possible timescale to deliver preventative measures. Hayes said local authorities could take guidance from the asset management plans of Cambridgeshire and Hampshire County Councils who had differing approaches to the process: “The experiences of these two local authorities offer valuable guidance and case studies to other local authorities Cambridgeshire County Council has recently developed its new asset management strategy while Hampshire County Council has a well-established and embedded strategy in place.
    
“As these two case studies demonstrate local authorities will need strong political support and a longer term programme of funding and interventions in their asset management plans.”

Cambridgeshire County Council
In 2012, on-going budget reductions at Cambridgeshire County Council’s Economy Transport and Environment directorate resulted in the need to transform its highway maintenance into a more asset management focussed service. In 2013, an asset management team was established and the council participated in one of the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) strategic peer review pilots to help identify how well the authority approached asset management and what improvements should be considered.
    
A key outcome from the peer review was that the council’s highway maintenance should be focussed around a long term view that would help maximise available resources and sustain the conditions of the county’s highway assets. It encouraged the council to build upon its existing strong platform and make a step change in highways management.
    
An implementation plan was produced in line with the findings from the peer review and advice from HMEP’s guidance documents. The main focus was to develop a high level policy and strategy for highway asset management with key activities and timeframes.
    
Strategy & policy
An intensive workshop to further develop the strategy was held with partner Skanska, key officers and members and focussed on the use of interactive Long Term Cost Prediction models. This allowed live evaluation of various investment and maintenance strategies and resulted in a consensus on what was most important for Cambridgeshire and its future direction.   
    
The resulting policy and strategy were approved by the county council’s cabinet in March 2014 and set out how the county’s highway network would be managed to make the best use of the authority’s available resources. The strategy will deliver financial efficiency savings of up to 20 per cent and is driven by a detailed understanding of the condition of assets across the county, and a technical assessment of which areas of spend will deliver best value.
    
It adopts a preventative approach to the way the County’s roads and footways are maintained moving away from the previous corrective approach which was costly and unsustainable. It also maximises the life of highway assets by adopting a longer term approach in the selection of optimum maintenance interventions.

The strategy, which aims to improve residents’ expectations of network condition, also recognises the importance of all types of roads to local communities and allows geographical considerations to be made on funding choices.
    
A review of existing service standards and intervention levels for reactive and planned maintenance are the council’s next steps for 2014/2015, and will result in publication of Cambridgeshire’s first Highway Infrastructure Asset Management Plan.
    
Jonathan Pearson from Cambridgeshire County Council said: “Gaining buy in from senior officers and members across all political groups was one of the main benefits that the council achieved during the strategy development.”
    
“This helped us gain acceptance in taking a long term view to asset management, and allowed us to replace previous practice which was essentially based on a ‘worst first’ approach, and was both inefficient and expensive.”

Hampshire County Council
Hampshire County Council had traditionally used revenue maintenance funds to reactively repair potholes alongside an element of capital funding to support some planned maintenance. It recognised that this approach was not cost-effective and the overall condition of the highway network had not improved.
    
From 2004, an asset management ethos began to develop as the council recognised that preventative treatments offered better long term improvements. The council set targets for improving performance based on national indicators and there was a growing awareness that asset management techniques would support delivering the required improvements.
 
Following severe winter weather in 2008-09, Hampshire recorded a significant number of potholes and deterioration in the condition of the network. The county council was awarded £2.6 million in emergency capital funding from the Department for Transport to address the problem. Potholes and highway condition issues were considered by the council’s elected members who asked officers to evaluate the cost of both restoring the network to its pre-winter condition and improving the network’s overall condition.
    
Lifecycle plans were then developed for all asset types on the network and these assisted in determining the funding needed to deliver improved levels of service. This work was used to build the case that approximately £100 million of additional funding was required to deliver the necessary improvements and provide a highway network with improved resilience to adverse weather conditions whilst delivering the required level of service. The elected members agreed to undertake a level of prudential borrowing to cover the costs of the required investment over a seven year period.
    
Asset management tools were used to support decisions on where and how this additional funding should be spent, and enabled the council to build a robust argument to explain what could be achieved with correct, directed resources.
    
Steve Spender from Hampshire County Highways said, “A major issue we had to overcome was making sure that the right resources were available for the authority, our contractors and suppliers to meet the additional workload and deliver the work created with the additional funding.”
    
Over the past two years, the authority has experienced an increase in positive public perception on the delivery of the highway maintenance service. It has also resulted in reduced network deterioration following successive severe winters and the overall road condition has stabilised.
    
Proven success
IHE President Richard Hayes said asset management plans implemented by local authorities such as Cambridgeshire and Hampshire had led to proven successes and improvements.
    
“However, the level of implementation varies among authorities and this underscores the need for government to make the asset management approach mandatory for all local authorities.
    
“An asset management programme that includes lifecycle cost analysis, risk management, evaluating service standards and performance management, asset valuation, building a strong business case and long term investment planning has benefits for local authorities in the long-term. The risk of failing to take a long-term view will see UK’s road network deteriorate even further.”
    
He said despite a clear need for asset management planning at the local authority level, there was a shortage of experience and knowledge in the field which was needed to make the most effective use of resources.
    
“The IHE has developed a competency based training programme in asset management for local authority staff so there is a pool of qualified asset management practitioners that will consider an asset over its whole lifecycle and resist short-term actions.
    
“IHE’s asset management courses provide entry level and experienced asset managers with tailored advice on best-practice.”

Further information
www.theihe.org

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