Further cross-boundary collaborative working between Highways England and local highway authorities is inevitable and essential, senior figures from the sector have said.
Delegates at the Surveyor's Highways Management 2015 conference last week heard the comments in a panel discussion between the Highways England’s executive director of network delivery and development, David Brewer, and Kier's strategic highways business development director Alan Dinsdale.
Route strategy discussions designed to help network management are beginning again and involving a smaller number of organisations across larger areas, partly as a result of devolution, Mr Brewer said.
Highways England has set a new tone for collaboration
The private sector can use their experience to help bring behavioural change, efficiency and a culture shift towards greater collaboration, added Mr Dinsdale.
'We are determined and committed to push forward with better collaboration with regional stakeholders. For example, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Transport for Greater Manchester. The proof of this will be in what we do together from here onwards, but it represents a clear signal of our intentions and commitment,' Mr Brewer said.
'The reality is that some regions already have particular schemes in place creating greater collaboration. One of the most important things we can do is be more open and honest about things that are or are not on our agenda for the next four or five years.'
Mr Dinsdale suggested it is inevitable local authority highways management will migrate to more regional structures.
'In the short-term, authorities working together will bring more integration and standardisation so greater efficiency,' he claimed.
'Over the longer-term, a regional approach may ultimately see roughly 39 regional agencies matching boundaries of Local Enterprise Partnerships. It’s worth noting that the public are not interested in boundaries, but a door-to-door journey that is safe and reliable.'
There are already some schemes underway involving collaboration between the Highways England and local authorities, Mr Brewer reminded delegates. These include a number of projects Highways England is funding for authorities to deliver, plus long-term planning of projects to avoid clashing of adjacent works.
'The pinch point programme has 116 schemes across the country, often there will be local authority projects close by and timing constraints that mean the neighbouring work cannot be moved at a later date. A vital ingredient for collaboration is a long term planning cycle,' said Mr Brewer.
There is also the Highways England’s £100m growth fund for unlocking local housing developments, which is looking to attract match funding from local and development partners.
'A long-term aim is the creation of a strategic economic growth plan with a planning horizon of 2040,' Mr Brewer said.
'We will be going out to all local and regional authorities to gather intelligence on their development plans, to inform what will be needed from us and where significant house building sites are expected to be located.
'Of course this will change before 2040, but as long as we’ve got good links to the information and a rolling programme of long-term planning then we will be able to act accordingly.'