A few weeks ago I was invited by Austroads (the strategic road authority of Australia) to give the keynote address at the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) Road and Transport Congress in Hobart, Tasmania.
In common with elsewhere in the world Australia is grappling with a shortage of funding to adequately maintain its road infrastructure and sees good asset management (AM) as crucial in addressing this.
Australia has 580 local councils that are responsible for managing 650,000km roads which represents over 80% of the national road network .
The size of the Councils varies with some of the rural ones covering large geographic areas but with very small populations. The other major differences to the UK is that 40% of the roads are unsealed (i.e. no bituminous surfacing) and rural councils in particular have a large proportion of timber road bridges.
Although the Australian economy has be less affected by the global economic crisis it is still facing similar pressures to public finances. These challenges include:-
- 25% increase in population by 2050
- increase in ageing population (reaching 25% over 65s by 2050)
- the increasing impact of climate change
- 47% increase in freight over the next 30 years
The ALGA report of 2010 "The Local Roads Funding Gap" estimated the gap per annum to cover the backlog and the annual underspend to be 2.0$ billion.
Over 250 delegates attended the Congress many of whom were local councillors. My presentation focused on the HMEP key areas of greater collaboration improved procurement & standardisation and the better AM all of which was very relevant and well received.
As in the UK , Australia has a mixed economy in the take up and application of good AM. Many Council's have AM plans (82% from a limited ALGA survey of 55 councils) but only 69% from the survey use there AM plans to develop long term financial plans and consequently have limited detail information on how the asset is deteriorating and what levels of investment are required to maintain service levels.
An importance piece of work which the ALGA have commissioned is "the National State of the Assets Report " in order to gather more accurate AM data is a survey of the condition of all Council's road assets so that they are able to report on the overall state of the nation's road assets which details of the stage 1 pilot undertaken by 55 Council's were published at the Congress. This is something we did have a good handle on in UK until fairly recently but since the ending of the requirement for Council's report on the condition of the unclassified road network and footways we no longer are able to report on the overall condition of our total highway infrastructure.
Australian local councils are also often unable to retain adequate technical expertise to effectively manage their road networks so the HMEP initiatives around greater collaboration and shared services are also very relevant for these councils.
It will be interesting now to see how many hits we get from down under on the HMEP web-site!
Matthew Lugg OBE