The head of highways maintenance at the Department for Transport (DfT) has revealed that the 2019-2020 Incentive Fund’s self-assessment process could be changed to include questions on data and the environment.
Giving the keynote address at the Local Council Roads Innovation Group’s conference 'Strictly Highways' in Blackpool, Steve Berry declared the self-assessment questionnaire had been ‘a great success’ and suggested that ‘99% of highway authorities are Band 3 now’.
However he went on to caveat that claim, suggesting that practice on the ground might reflect a different reality, following suggestions from senior sector figures - such as John Lamb, president of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group - that some councils might be exaggerating their performance.
'We did say at the outset of the Incentive Fund that we would do an audit. We are just about to do that. We are working up a specification to get an independent auditor to come into some highway authorities. Of course we will be taking a random sample across the country,’ Mr Berry said.
Blackpool Council is set to be one of the first to undergo the audit and could then become a case study.
Mr Berry went on to reveal that while the self-assessment will keep its three-level structure, the questions are set to change.
‘I don’t know which ones we will be taking out yet, but we are working with ministers who are keen to see changes. One thing will be around data. Data is one of your key assets and is so important to everything you do as highway authorities.
‘The second thing is around the environment. This is on the Government’s agenda. We have a 25-year environment plan and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, is keen to improve air quality in areas, and also there is a concern about street trees.’
Mr Berry referenced a Conservative manifesto pledge to ‘place new duties on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees’.
‘I am looking to publish further details later this year ahead of the 2019/2020 exercise.’
Mr Berry also revealed that following the tragedy in Genoa with the Morandi bridge collapse, the next DfT Challenge Fund competition would focus on bridges and structures.
‘There are a number of bridges on the network that are actually potentially sub-standard and need to be upgraded before weight restrictions are put in place. So we suggested to ministers to focus on bridges and structures in the next Challenge Fund.
'We are working on a light touch approach rather than a full-scale bidding process. We want to work with the UK bridges community through the UK Bridges Board so we target the funding where it is needed around the country.
Mr Berry also revealed that the DfT is working with council directors’ body ADEPT to produce pothole guidance to be published ahead of the winter and issued to all highway authorities, which would ‘detail some of the materials and repairs you may wish to consider using’.
Also, ahead of the 2019 Comprehensive Spending Review, the DfT is working on a state of the nation report on the UK highways assets, as well as a review of the nation’s lighting stock.
Mr Berry suggested that once the gaps in the lighting stock have been identified – including the areas without LED lighting – the DfT might do some procurement on local authorities’ behalf to utilise economies of scale.