Clive Bairsto, chief executive, Street Works UK Energy networks, Opinion

“We need to create a culture of collaboration within our sector between utilities and highways authorities.”

Up and down the country, Street Works UK members are playing a key role in delivering the government’s infrastructure priorities.

Vital works such as broadband rollout, the installation of electric vehicle charging points and the housebuilding programme are reliant on the delivery of streetworks. As policymakers consider a number of proposals for reforming how streetworks operate, it’s essential utilities and their contractor partners continue to have a strong voice and that it is heard.

Street Works UK recognises that while infrastructure investment is critical, often the congestion caused by large infrastructure projects and the associated streetworks is not and causes disruption. To keep pace with the level of demand on our sector, we must also continue to look at the ways in which we can do more to reduce congestion.

First, we need to create a culture of collaboration within our sector that encourages utilities and highways to work more closely together to improve outcomes for road users. Effective co-ordination of works is at the heart of this. Highways authorities already have a duty to co-ordinate works, and there are opportunities to understand how new combined authorities can play a role in doing this on a regional level for major infrastructure. In contrast, the expansion of lane rental across the country will do little to reduce congestion, and will only make it harder for utilities to deliver vital infrastructure. Instead, we should be developing a streamlined approach towards permitting and helping local authorities use existing powers to manage and co-ordinate street works.

Second, as our members continue to deliver vital infrastructure projects for an ever-growing population, we need to continue to innovate the ways in which we conduct streetworks. The government has made some good progress by establishing the Barrier Busting Taskforce, which was set up to ensure policy and regulation supports rather than hinders widespread infrastructure deployment. We now have a further opportunity through the upcoming Specification of the Reinstatement of Openings in Highways (SROH) review, to look at new building practices, materials, equipment and the role they can have in making streetworks more efficient.

Finally, it is also important that our members are able to keep Britain moving forward. In particular, having capacity to deliver the unprecedented housebuilding and infrastructure programmes. The vital streetworks that are taking place underpin the everyday lives of homeowners and businesses across the country. From listening closely to the views of members on the ground, one of the things that has become abundantly clear to me is that post-Brexit, our government needs to give consideration to how our workforce will continue to have the skills set to deliver modern infrastructure projects.

Underpinning all this is having a constructive, working relationship with government and highways partners. Over recent years, Street Works UK has grown into a champion of the industry and it is vital that we continue to engage with policymakers to put forward the case for the contribution that streetworks make so that the policy landscape reflects this.
It’s an incredibly busy time for our sector and I’m delighted to be in this new role. By working together, I am convinced that we can bring about real, positive change.

 

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