CIHT Review on improving local roads: First results revealed

13/03/2019
Dom Browne

The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) has received initial findings from its survey into ‘Improving Local Highways’.

President of CIHT and WSP head of profession for local government, Matthew Lugg (pictured), reported back on the online survey at the CIHT annual conference this month, before the body does further evidence gathering and working group analysis.

The CIHT is not the first voice in the sector to survey the appetite for change and find it to be considerable.

Highways magazine for instance has carried out a series of surveys that reveal a strong desire for reforms to procurement, governance and finances – all available in its back catalogue online.

The difference is that the CIHT is one of the largest independent professional bodies in the country, with an automatic seat at the table with ministers to genuinely press the case for change.

President Mr Lugg – who is something of an institution himself by now - has been pushing for reform for years. He has made no secret of the fact he feels a utilities model could be a solution to the funding crisis local highways faces, but this latest survey, which he pioneered and which has received around 150 responses across the industry, outlines a range of different options and the variety of preferences across the sector.

Mr Lugg introduced the results by stating: ‘There is no strategy for local roads whatsoever. This is an opportunity to influence that space… There will be a Spending review – it’s generally expected to be in the next three to six months – and it’s really important that we can complete this report and speak to [transport minister] Jesse Norman and do all we can to help the Department for Transport.’

While progress has been made through the Incentive Funds self-assessment process, and its push to asset management, as well as the new code of practice and its risk-based approach to maintenance, there is no doubt that the governance and the funding system is fragmented, as is the data processing, and the money is often delivered piecemeal and is nearly always insufficient.

Mr Lugg continued: ‘Clearly the big issue is about money. Some authorities are going bankrupt. This is a situation that is absolutely catastrophic in terms of the revenue money that goes towards the day to day. I have had conversations with some highway authorities that are going to statutory minimum. We can get lots of capital but if we don’t do that day to day stuff than the integrity of the asset will be affected.’

When it comes to finances the survey results were perhaps most predictable.

Funding

  • 9 out of 10 want ring fenced funding
  • 7 out of 10 support TOTEX funding (pooled capital and revenue funding)
  • 95% support certainty of funding for 5 year period
  • 8 out of 10 support a roads fund for local highways network
  • 5 out of 10 support pay as you go road finance
  • 96% want to change the way utilities pay for maintenance of the network

‘We have this for strategic road network [for Highways England] so why not local road so we can manage the asset better,’ Mr Lugg pointed out.

The research also found 96% want to change the way utilities pay for maintenance of the network. This comes after the Government consultation on reforming the street works code of practice (see pages 84-86.)

Mr Lugg pulled no punches on his support for this sentiment: ‘We all know utilities effect the integrity of the highway network. They reduce life of the road by about 30% but utilities don’t pay the true cost of the damage they create. So why shouldn’t they pay more?’

Interestingly, though also perhaps predictably the funding issue that most split the sector was support for some form of ‘pay as you go’ road finance or road user charging. Only 50% supported this often politically unpalatable solution. This is despite Amey graduate transport modeller Gergely Raccuja winning the prestigious £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize for his road user charging plan.

Standardisation was the key ask around data.

Data

  • 9 out of 10 supported a standard approach to collecting condition data
  • 96% we should have a standard approach to calculate the backlog

The CIHT review provided an interesting breakdown of the data highway authorities currently hold.

This showed more than 70% said there was good knowledge of the condition of classified roads but less than 40% felt there was good knowledge of unclassified road condition.

Good knowledge of footway condition dropped below 30% and drainage came worst of all with just over 10% stating highway authorities had good knowledge of drainage assets.

Reorganisation

  • 7 out of 10 supported reducing the number of highway authorities
  • 27% said a voluntary reorganisation was their first choice, with a further 19% stating it was second choice
  • Around a quarter felt new authorities should be drawn up, with a 23% second preference and
  • 22% felt the utilities option was best with a 20% second preference. 

When it came to governance 7 out of 10 supported reducing the number of highway authorities, however opinion was very varied as to how best to reorganise local structures.

A list of options was given including voluntary restructure, existing highway authorities to formally joining together using platforms such as combined authorities or sub-national transport bodies, creating new highway authorities around a new structure based on some optimal size and creating new highway authorities based on utilities models.

Taking first and second preferences together, reorganisations based on existing structures including combined authorities and STBs received the most support with 24% first preference and 40% second.

Mr Lugg accepted that any such reorganisation ‘would have to be on some sort of incentivised basis – if there is more money perhaps you have to do something to get this money’.

Around 27% said a voluntary reorganisation was their first choice, with a further 19% stating it was second choice. Around a quarter felt new authorities should be drawn up, with a 23% second preference and 22% felt the utilities option was best with a 20% second preference. In short the field was fairly split.

President of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group (TAG), John Lamb, cautioned that ‘small but perfectly formed mature authorities such as Blackpool and Derby’ had been capable of best practice and so warned against chasing answers to a hypothesis rather than letting the evidence lead the way.

The CIHT has established a working group, including other key bodies from around the sector such as ADEPT, the Highways Term Maintenance Association, TAG, the NHT and the RAC Foundation.

It is now developing an evidence base to take these initial findings forward, including examples of best practice inside the UK and abroad.

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