The sector reacts: Is Chris Grayling right about pavements and utilities?


Transport secretary Chris Grayling's suggestion that pavements could become the default location for new utility infrastructure to cut down on roadworks and potholes has provoked angry reactions from some quarters. Transport Network gives a round-up of the key reactions and talking points.

The campaigners:

A National Federation of the Blind of the UK spokesperson: ‘If Chris Grayling thinks he is going to disrupt access for blind and disabled people simply to grab a quick headline rather than address underlying issues around efficiency, proper road maintenance and collaboration within the roads sector, he is going to have one hell of an fight on his hands. Pavements are for people, end of discussion.’

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, told The Times, which ran the initial story, that: 'Pavements are already in a terrible state, partly because we already have lots of utilities under there. The result is that the NHS spends an awful lot of money treating people who've had trips, slips and falls on uneven and badly maintained pavements.

'Unless Chris Grayling is prepared to make much more money available for pavements, he will simply make an already big problem a whole lot worse. You can't just export the problem from roads to pavements without expecting major consequences.'

Tompion Platt, head of policy, Living Streets comments: 'It is delusional to think this will do anything other than shift the problem onto our already cluttered and cracked pavements.'

The sector:

Jerry McConkey, CEO of JAG(UK) which represents the interests of every highway authority in the United Kingdom, commented: 'What the secretary of state says is laudable but there are numerous practicalities that make it difficult to achieve. In fact, there are many utilities already with apparatus in the footway, and many of those currently in the road are simply too big to move into what is already a cluttered environment. He is right, that when you dig up a road, the repaired joints are the weakest link, opening up the road surface to wear and leading to potholes.

'The industry is exploring innovative approaches to improve performance, however many of the problems are linked to how contracts are written and awarded which wrongly encourages cost cutting. With the current emphasis on the cheapest way, we struggle to ensure utility contractors meet the statutory specifications for repairing the highway.

'There is lots of evidence and many instances, where reinstatements are not to specification. However, it is the utilities’ responsibility to ensure the standard of repair, yet corners are cut to reach the cheapest solution which is often the most expensive due to the need to revisit sites to repair defective work. This in turn creates more avoidable disruption to the travelling public. Government needs to ensure consistency and compliance from the utility companies, rather than the blame falling to contractors. Often corporate responsibility is contracted out to third parties which is not helpful.'

Clive Bairsto, chief executive of Street Works UK, the trade association for utilities and their contractor partners: 'Street Works UK supports in principle all efforts to encourage works to take place in the footway rather than the carriageway where that is technically possible.

'Many utility assets are already placed under the footway, and we will be working very closely with the Department for Transport and highways authorities to understand how these proposals can be implemented.

'However there are a number of practical considerations that need to be thought through further. It may not be appropriate to place some utility assets – particularly larger pipes – under the footway in already highly congested spaces.'

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: 'As motorists we’d all like to see an end to the roadworks needed to fix the pipes and cables buried beneath them, but the fact is we’re hemmed in by history. Utility networks have been run under our roads for well over a century.

'Perhaps new technologies like pipe-jacking will help, likewise installing access points away from the main carriageway.

'Looking ahead, surely the design of new services should be minimising disruption to motorists and pedestrians alike, particularly where new roadway is being built.'

The Department for Transport

A senior official from the Department for Transport told Transport Network: 'The country needs to understand the roads repair backlog and target exactly what needs to be prioritised for works ahead of a Spending Review and also what lessons we can learn from our overseas counterparts.

'We are keen to press highway authorities to ensure they get repairs right first time and have introduced asset management into our approach but we are keen to deliver further the vision as set by ministers for better road surfaces and new technology such as pothole spotter and safety inspections to help improve the condition for all road users.”

The training approach:

On the Highways website, Richard Hayes, chief executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers, discusses plans to develop a new training scheme for road inspections that could help square a circle with the issues arising from utility operations and reinstatements.

'The IHE has identified that a significant number of safety defects relating to utility works have to be repaired by the highway authority within the two-year guarantee period or the extended guarantee period if a defect had already been repaired under guarantee.

'There was also a general lack of willingness by some highway authorities and their New Roads and Street Works Act in England, Scotland, Wales and |Northern Ireland) (NRSWA) inspectors to challenge the contractors’ compliance in relation to both the reinstatement works and the signing, lighting and guarding associated with the works and/or permit compliance.'

'NRSWA inspectors require a different skills and knowledge set to the existing NRSWA qualification for operatives and supervisors and with a need to ensure transparency, and competency when issuing fines for poor reinstatements, has prompted to IHE to develop a specialist training provision for inspecting utility works.

'A City and Guilds 6033 scheme for NRSWA inspections and Permit Compliance has been developed by the Skills Training Centre and the Highways Inspectors Board IS seeking to develop this to instigate training and competence standards for NRSWA inspections.'

Technology and innovation is driving significant change which will help government bodies who maintain the UK’s road network – all of which can be seen through live demonstrations at Traffex Seeing is Believing, 27-28 June 2018.

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