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

Project Engineer (Permanent)

Havant Borough Council
£37,100
We’re looking for an experienced and enthusiastic engineer to join our well-regarded design and implementation team. Havant, Hampshire
Recuriter: Havant Borough Council

Project Engineer (Fixed Term)

Havant Borough Council
£37,100
We’re looking for an experienced and enthusiastic engineer to join our well-regarded design and implementation team. Havant, Hampshire
Recuriter: Havant Borough Council

Contract Supervisor

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£31,013 - £36,486 depending on skills, knowledge and experience
The role of Contract Supervisor (Waste and Street Cleansing) will require you to support ambitious plans to provide services for residents Richmond upon Thames, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Flood Risk Manager

Birmingham City Council
£43,662 - £54,574
The role requires the post holder to be the lead professional for the Authority’s Flood Risk Management and drainage function Birmingham, West Midlands
Recuriter: Birmingham City Council

Head of Highways & Transport

Lewisham London Borough Council
up to £72,705
As our lead expert on highways and transport, you will set the direction and lead on all transport related matters Lewisham, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Lewisham London Borough Council

Ugobus Driver (multiple positions)

Essex County Council
Up to £18938.0 per annum
Please note that we have permanent, fixed term and relief contract opportunities on a part time, job share and flexible working basis. The salary is u England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Assistant Director

Hounslow London Borough Council
Up to £82k
Working across a wide range of high profile direct services, the emphasis for this role is on partnership working. Hounslow (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Hounslow London Borough Council

Head of Parks and Environmental Services

Harrogate Borough Council
£58,778 - £61,882
You will have experience at a senior level in the management and delivery of front line services relevant to the functions Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: Harrogate Borough Council

Programme Technician/Engineer

Norfolk County Council
£29,636 - £31,371 per annum
This is a challenging position which involves working across wide ranging activities. Norwich, Norfolk
Recuriter: Norfolk County Council

Principal Transport Planner – 2 posts (Warrington Waterfront Western Link)

Warrington Borough Council
£40,760 - £43,662 plus essential car user allowance
We are looking to form a new Warrington Waterfront Western Link Team and we are looking to fill a number of key posts Warrington, Cheshire
Recuriter: Warrington Borough Council

Director of Integrated Transport

Liverpool City Region
Salary up to £124,848
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is embarking on a search for an exceptional individual with the passion to deliver on our vision Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Region

Highways Manager

Oxford Direct Services
G11
Oxford Direct Services
Recuriter: Oxford Direct Services

Data Entry Administrator

Telford & Wrekin Council
£18,795 - £19,171
Telford & Wrekin’s Public Protection Service is looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated Data Entry Administrator Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Transport Planner

Camden London Borough Council
£33,122 to £38,423
You’ll have previous experience of working in a transport/planning/accessible transport environment Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Parking Business Administrator Level 3 Apprenticeship

Brent Council
£15,000 p.a. inc.
This role will support the Brent Parking Team work to provide administrative support for both the Notice Processing Team Brentford (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Principal Engineer (Development)

Liverpool City Council
£37,849 - £42,683
Liverpool City Council wish to recruit a Principal Engineer (Development) to provide managerial and technical support. Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Council

Traffic Manager

Lincolnshire County Council
£55,503 - £60,578
We are looking to recruit a Traffic Manager to join our Highways team Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Team Leader x2 - Passenger Transport

Redbridge London Borough Council
£27,228 - £28,215 per annum
You will be responsible for overseeing the duties of Passenger Transport drivers as well as providing support to the service and managers. Redbridge, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Redbridge London Borough Council

UTMC Engineer

Warrington Borough Council
£31,371 - £34,788
You will support the UTMC Principal Engineer and work as part of a team responsible for all aspects of Urban Traffic Management and Control Warrington, Cheshire
Recuriter: Warrington Borough Council

Programme Assurance Manager Public Realm

Westminster City Council
£46,293 - £49,203 per annum
A graduate, or have equivalent experience, and you can show evidence of continued professional, managerial and personal development... City of Westminster, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Westminster City Council

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Zero carbon roads?

Modelling the future

A breath of fresh air

View the latest issue

Latest Video