Protecting our valuable assets: local highway asset management

Andrew Warrington | 05 Apr 2017 | Comments

The importance of the local road network to the national economy is well recognised. Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) indicate that £1.2 million was spent on maintenance of local authority managed ‘A’ roads in 2016. The general condition of local roads is a priority issue, significantly impacting the journey quality and safety of all road users, from vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists to drivers.

Although some local authorities are facing funding challenges and concerns that the resilience of the network is reducing, they are also demonstrating flexibility and willingness to make best use of the funding that is available to drive improved efficiency. Effective asset management is one such approach that is being widely adopted as a response.

In 2013, Atkins wrote a revised asset management guidance document on behalf of HMEP and UKRLG to support asset management best practice. The guidance was published with lifecycle planning tools, to help authorities make the most of available funds. The development of digital data collection and analytical systems is one of these, and demonstrates performance of highway infrastructure assets and optimum planned interventions.

These tools are now well embedded in local authority practices and the DfT has supported it’s delivery by incentivising the adoption of good asset management with the introduction of its incentive fund.

A further challenge for local authorities lies in increased pressure to demonstrate organisational efficiency and achievement of outcomes. In some cases, this has led to the consolidation of teams whereby separate sub-cultures exist around the management of different assets such as carriageways, street lighting or structures.

The implementation of asset management provides a solution to this disconnect through an integrated approach to managing strategy, cross-asset priorities, data, analysis, planning and operational delivery. To be successful however, it must be incorporated into organisational transformations.

The Code of Practice supports this approach by setting out requirements for local authorities to review and improve their existing service delivery processes. This ensures the full efficiency benefits from a digital asset management approach are delivered whilst remaining aligned to the local organisational outcomes.

Equally importantly, the Code of Practice encourages greater integration between highway infrastructure asset management and each authority’s approach to risk management. This is critical to strengthen the resilience of the network, and if implemented, could transform the shape of UK roads.

Although funding and asset deterioration issues continue to test local authority commitment to road health, these authorities have displayed a demonstrable willingness to improve and find new ways of working. The maturity of the UK highway infrastructure asset management is enabling an increasingly robust approach to investment decisions to support this.

We have a clear direction to move forward and drive the delivery of efficiencies, through digital asset management and the integration of the powerful new tools the approach brings.