What we have seen at this year’s conference is right at the cutting edge,’ Alan Sheen, director of Dome Overseas Ltd, told delegates at Transport Network's Cold Comfort event in May – echoing what many had already said on the exhibition floor.
His fellow long-standing National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) associate Mark Dutton, managing director at Safecote Ltd, took up the point to urge attendees to consider NWSRG membership as one way to help boost the UK’s research and skills capacity even further.
‘I have presented around the world on the excellent work that NWSRG has done over the years and whenever I present there is always a look of shock and horror that the UK, which is perceived rightly or wrongly as something of a luddite in winter service, is actually investing money in research that sometimes is cutting edge and really liked.’
While the judgment of our foreign colleagues may seem a little harsh, it is fair to say the UK has come a long way in the last decade.
Head of local roads at the Department for Transport (DfT), Steve Berry, provided a useful recent history of UK winter service in his presentation to Cold Comfort, which demonstrated just how much winter service in this country has developed through the impact of crises and the subsequent studies of services.
From the Pitt Review into the 2007 floods to the UK Roads Liaison Group’s review of the 2009 extreme winter weather, some may say the UK has been forced into making progress. It has also been said by some in the sector that many aspects of the Pitt Review and lessons from David Quarmby’s review of winter service are still to be fully put into practice.
Mr Berry highlighted the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report, which was published in July 2016 and provides a ‘comprehensive analysis of the risks and opportunities posed by climate change to the UK’.
He also highlighted the Local Resilient Network Project – a DfT research project being carried out with local authorities on an internal basis to identify vulnerable assets, with a particular focus on those that can have a cross-sectional impact in areas like energy. The research is scheduled to be finished by the autumn, when a launch event could discuss the ramifications for the sector.
Steve Berry OBE
Mr Berry told delegates: ‘The prime purpose of the work is to conduct a detailed analysis of inherent points of potential failure associated with the English local road network and its associated assets such as; bridges, road and rail (excluding London) to determine the risk profile of each primary and alternative routes.
‘The analysis is to provide the information needed to help produce robust contingency plans needed to mitigate a full range of risk factors that may at some time affect the highways that provide vital links between communities, civic centres, industry and business.
‘The work will also assess the likely impact on a comprehensive list of organisations (as determined with DfT), across multiple sectors, that could be impacted by a failure in viability of the road. Particularly if points of failure to the resilient network would impede significant traffic loads to and from their associated location.’
Mr Berry told Highways that a range of information could be used in the project, including open data sources.
Pushing the boundaries
Another talk from professor of climate resilience at the University of Birmingham, Lee Chapman, looked at his plans to revolutionise winter service using low cost sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT). Professor Chapman gives the lie to those who say the UK doesn’t push the boundaries, having previously helped develop route-based forecasting himself through the university.
As well as weather sensors, Professor Chapman suggested the IoT impact on winter service could lead to more connected vehicles providing mobile data.
He told delegates: ‘The idea is inspired by a sensor developed by the University of Birmingham on the NERC Network of Sensors project, HiTemp. A bespoke self-contained air temperature sensor was designed to produce a high resolution network across Birmingham.’
On the back of this, he established Wintersense – a project co-created with Amey that adapted the HiTemp technology to measure road surface temperatures for gritting applications. Wintersense provides the hardware and software required to deploy a dense network of road surface temperature sensors.
So how game-changing is this?
‘High resolution and open data have never been previously available,’ Prof Chapman said, and suggested confidence in selective salting could now be on the horizon.
He added that the ‘traditional lines of instrumentation manufacturers and forecasters are becoming blurred’ and asked whether more data would actually reduce the need for detailed forecasts.
Chief executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), Richard Hayes, gave delegates a crucial rundown of issues related to a risk-based approach in winter service as recommended by the code of practice – Well-managed Highway Infrastructure – which authorities should be compliant with by October 2018. The IHE’s Well Managed Highway Liability Risk provides national guidance on the risk-based approach.
Mr Hayes outlined the key issues including establishing whether a winter service policy was ‘reasonable and compliant with the new code’ and suggested ‘good record keeping is essential in establishing a Section 58 defence’.
He asked delegates: ‘Are you able to justify through sound evidence of network, likelihood, impact and affordability, that the winter services policy in your authority satisfies the requirements of Section 41(1A) of the Highways Act 1980?’
Mr Hayes highlighted a potential test case for the risk-based approach in Brenda White v Nottinghamshire CC. The claimant was injured when she slipped as a result of ice on the pavement and alleged breach of section 41(1A) on the basis that the footway had not been gritted. The council defended the claim on the basis that it had complied with its Winter Service Operational Plan (WSOP). The burden was on the council to establish that it had ensured ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ that safe passage along the highway was not endangered by snow and ice. As the council’s policy was to not grit the footway in these weather conditions, the council had to prove that it was not reasonably practicable to do so, in effect justifying its WSOP.
The claim was dismissed by the County Court and the judge held that the WSOP had an appropriate method and was rational. However, Weightmans LLP, which acted for the council in this case, told Highways it has received a notice of appeal from the claimant. So watch this space.
Mr Hayes told Highways that this was a useful test case on the principles around the risk-based approach and the outcome would be of great interest to the sector.
It was clear from the presentation of Peter Turland, senior engineer at Doncaster MBC, that councils were already developing bold new approaches to risk analysis. Together with Nick Johnson, lead consultant – training and education at Vaisala Ltd, Mr Turland outlined how his authority has set about managing data in relation to the new code of practice and was creating a risk-based framework for winter maintenance.
Using historical weather station and climatic data combined with statistical analysis, the authority provided graphs and other useful tools to examine how you can take a risk-based approach to help rationalise prioritisation and decision-making. Mr Turland said these were useful in establishing an understanding with council members on the risks of different funding models.
As the conference came to a close it was clear that practitioners would return to their authorities with plenty of insights and more understanding of what is actually becoming, for all the risk involved, a very fast moving sector. Of course we must remember the saying about haste and speed.
Cold Comfort 2018, the 27th Annual Winter Maintenance Conference and Exhibition takes place at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on 16 and 17 May 2018.
Register your interest today at https://coldcomfort.tn-events.co.uk and we will keep you informed with the Early Bird Discount offers and programme updates.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Highways magazine.