Highways innovation held back by potholes and headlines, DfT director says

31/05/2018

The director of local transport at the Department for Transport (DfT) has warned that the UK is ‘not very good at systems-wide thinking’, which could hold the highways sector back as it seeks to develop innovation and embrace the connected world.

Graham Pendlebury also revealed that the constant pressure of the so-called pothole crisis and the fear of bad headlines prevented the department from trying new ideas sometimes.

�Local

Speaking at the Local Government Technical Advisers Group (TAG) president’s conference, he said: ‘I do wonder if we are still in the foothills of the technological revolution…We are nervous about using new technology where there is the potential of failure. I know there are a number of ideas that we have put to ministers that didn’t see the light of day. If it went wrong it would get the wrong sort of headline.

‘Somehow as a country we are not very good at systems-wide thinking. I was very impressed when I was over in France recently, that there was a commonality of approach between the private sector and different state institutions to take a more systematic approach to looking at the problems of their infrastructure. In a way we are a little more fragmented. That is partly a problem with the fact we have so many highway authorities and a proliferation of bodies. I think we are a bit all over the place sometimes.

'I am very keen to get that systems wide-thinking approach built in to the department. I guess the other problem [with developing innovations], always the elephant in the room, is around costs. We know that financial circumstances in central and local government are very tight and there is always a risk that you will go for the cheapest option.

‘If we say to ministers let’s spend a few million on our pothole money in some experiment that may or may not work, it’s kind of a hard one. When you can say you could have filled x amount of potholes with that money in a tried and trusted, but probably not the most effective, way.’

This is not to say however that the DfT, the highways sector public and private and top universities are not doing some ground breaking research and applied technologies, and Mr Pendlebury highlighted some of its good work. 

‘We obviously believe that the time is right for more use of new technology to support highway maintenance and resilience right across the transport sector new tech and ways of working are transforming how you get things done.’

He referenced the Pothole Spotter and the BridgeCat, both of which the DfT is trialling with private companies and local authorities, and revealed new work being done by Cambridge University on highways.

‘I met senior academics and PhD students in Cambridge working on what to me seemed pretty astonishingly powerful tools for mapping and assessing the state of bridges and roads and other structures. Westminster Council has been involved in this.

'Some of this involves 3D digital mapping to an astonishing level of realism. Other tools involves beams that came down from satellites to measure asset condition to a mm scale. They did before and after on Tadcaster Bridge, which demonstrated that you could see several weeks before the bridge collapsed where the weak points were and the fact that is was going to collapse. Fascinating stuff.'

He also pointed out the progress being made in asset management and best practice in the local authority sector and revealed 

Mr Pendlebury outlined a vision for a total audit of local roads to ensure we have the best platform to advance asset management and a long-term strategy for roads.

'My personal vision is that using new technology we should be able to undertake a complete national audit of local roads in the country to a very fine degree, so we truly understand where the problems are and how to fix them. I think some other countries are a bit further down the line than us, for example in France, where both national and regional roads administrations have introduced very fine grain audits on their networks.'

'We are pleased to see from the 2018/19 returns that many authorities have embraced the Incentive Fund and more have fallen into Band 3 than last year. I think this does show continuous progress. We are now thinking about the next steps for the incentive element for 2019-20 and how we can continue to drive forward standards. Steve Berry [head of local road maintenance at DfT] is keen to hear from TAG and others on this. It’s also key that every authority has good asset data. It’s even more important as we move to a risk-based approach.'

Highways jobs

Specialist Refuse Loader

£19,312 - £19,698
Specialist Refuse Loader Stakeford, Choppington
Recruiter: Northumberland County Council

Assistant Director Environment

£95,438
We are looking for a strategic and resilient leader to become our next Assistant Director of Environment here in Doncaster. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: Doncaster Council

Project Engineer – Scarborough or Whitby Area Office

£24,982 to £35,745
We have an exciting Project Engineer opportunity in our Scarborough or Whitby Highways Operational office. Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Recruiter: North Yorkshire County Council

Ice Rink Manager

£29,724 - £32,757
We are looking for a friendly and approachable person to join our management team, who can... Chelmsford, Essex
Recruiter: Chelmsford City Council

Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Officers

£25.137 - £26.520
Following a redesign of the service, we are now looking to appoint a number of exceptional candidates as Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Officers. Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Supervisors

£30.585 - £31.557
Following a redesign of the service, we are now looking to appoint two experienced candidates as Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Supervisors. Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Environment Improvement Officer

£24,982 - £27,041 per annum
For further information on the role please click. Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Assistant Director - Capital Projects, Building Services, Highways and Transport

£77,862 to £93,434 per annum
You will lead a diverse range of services and will be responsible for the delivery of an ambitious and varied Capital Programme of... Darlington, Durham
Recruiter: Darlington Borough Council

Senior Assistant Engineer (Network Management)

£32,234 to £34,728
There are 2 roles available and each role will be pivotal to the Council in delivering statutory duties which fall... Wirral, Merseyside
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Team Leader (Network Development)

£37,890 to £40,876
Wirral is home to vibrant, energetic and engaged communities, people who... Wirral, Merseyside
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Assistant Project Engineer

£27,741 - £29,577 per annum
Do you have a passion for civil engineering and construction? Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Clerk of Works [JE1119]

£30,451 – £34,728
We are looking for a Clerk of Works to join our expanding team, supporting the Senior Engineers to deliver on... Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Recruiter: Milton Keynes Council

CPP Engineer

£19,698 to £35,745
We have developed a career progression pathway with four stages with a well-defined framework for... Cheshire
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Senior HSEQ Advisor

£35,745
An exciting opportunity has arisen to join North Yorkshire County Council's Shared Health and Safety Service to... North Yorkshire
Recruiter: North Yorkshire County Council

Service Change Officer - Street Scene

Competitive Salary
The Service Change Team supports Street Scene in improving and delivering high quality services to... Colindale, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Barnet London Borough Council

Information and Monitoring Officer

£26,025 - £38,616 per annum depending on skills
Would you like a role in shaping the planning policies of Richmond upon Thames and Wandsworth? London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Senior Officer - Parking

£35,745 - £40,876 per annum
As a Senior Parking Officer (Parking Enforcement) you will be responsible for managing parking contracts relating to the issue of... Sandwell, West Midlands
Recruiter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior Traffic Engineer

£39,880 - £42,821 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity for someone with excellent experience in Traffic Management and Engineering, or related discipline, to... Pembroke, Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro)
Recruiter: Pembrokeshire County Council

Principal Highway Development Management Officer

£32,910
We seek an enthusiastic and experienced individual to join our small and busy team dealing with all aspects of highway development management. East Riding of Yorkshire
Recruiter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Graduate Bridge Engineer

£22,183 to £25,481 per annum
We are happy to consider all applicants at degree level as well as HND (level 5) higher apprentices. Taunton, Somerset
Recruiter: Somerset County Council

Highways Presents

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

 

Highways England takes on tunnels

Also inside:

  • Legal analysis: What the Brexit trade agreement means for you
  • Maintenance: The heavy-duty kit making light work
View the latest issue

Latest Video