The Local Government Technical Advisers Group's (TAG) annual president’s conference saw Department for Transport (DfT) heavy hitters welcome the new president Rob Gillespie into his role.
Transport minister Andrew Jones and the director of local transport, Graham Pendlebury, were in attendance to discuss the issue of 'Challenges in highways asset management'.
Rob Gillespie, new president of TAG
After taking over the role from Trevor Collett, Mr Gillespie revealed his presidential theme for the year would be 'Connectivity and quality of life', stating that local service delivery ‘can be quantified by these two factors’.
Mr Gillespie, who is a service director at Ringway Hounslow Highways, welcomed the shift towards greater asset management in the sector and encouraged practitioners to ‘join the dots and have a solid understanding of the true whole-life value of our engineering solutions’.
He added that the recent self-assessment process, 'causes us all to thoroughly interrogate how we plan for the life of the asset over the long-term'.
On the same issue, Mr Jones told delegates: ‘The department stands ready to support local authorities and we are happy to assist and could come down to speak to officials trying to make the case for improved highways maintenance.’
He added: ‘We want to leave the field open for local authorities to make their changes, to take the initiative, to share ideas and cooperate.’
Mr Jones set a conciliatory tone in his keynote address, conceding that these are challenging times for local highways authorities, and praising them for improving in the face of financial difficulties.
'This sector has come a long way over the last few years by becoming more efficient, by adopting better principles of asset management and by working more collaboratively. We want local authorities to keep learning from one another to coordinate and adopt new technology to help us make funding go further still,' he said.
The minister stressed the importance of new technology several times, giving the impression that this was an area the department had targeted for improvement.
'It is vital we use technology to collect data and have better information about our assets, to ensure better decision-making, to understand more about the materials we use and have whole-life costing of the assets,' he said.
'By adopting these principles I am confident we can ensure we have a better local road network that keeps our nation moving. It is a big challenge but I am absolutely sure the improvement that has been made can be maintained. We are seeing great initiative and determination to meet the financial challenges. That is very noble and the department will provide as much support as we can.'
Mr Pendlebury hinted that the Key Route Network model adopted by Transport for Greater Manchester in collaboration with the city region’s 10 local authorities and Highways England could be rolled out to many other areas with devolution deals and particularly those with mayoral combined authorities.
He described it as a major development that gave authorities ‘a more strategic grasp on the networks in their areas’.
He was questioned by Transport Network over concerns in the sector that new plans to prevent unattended roadworks at the weekends on local authority A roads could be undermined by a loophole.
Mr Pendlebury declined to comment on the concerns but said that DfT officials would be listening to all the issues raised by the consultation.