Graham Dalton, chief executive of the Highways Agency, talks to Sandra Heavenstone
What are your key priorities?
First is to get absolute clarity on the investment programme for the motorway and strategic road network. We are working with the Department for Transport (DfT) to define which of the motorway capacity improvements should be delivered through Active Traffic Management, and which through widening. I want to get this programme fixed before the end of the year so that our Major Projects team can crack on with delivery.
Beyond that, I am working with DfT to build the relationship between the department, which supports ministers in setting policy, and the agency, which then delivers that policy. The Nichols report in 2007 said much of how that relationship should work for developing and delivering investment. It is now for me to make sure those changes are embedded, and that we take a look at how we work with the DfT in other areas to make sure that we are giving good support to policy development, and that they can then rely on us to implement.
And thirdly, there are some things we need to do across the agency - in terms of staff development, ways of working and good business planning - to meet the continuing challenge to be more efficient and to prepare for the next government spending review.
The Transport Secretary has announced a £6 billion investment package to improve and make better use of England's motorways and other key roads. This will fund a mix of techniques to get the most out of the existing network, such as opening the hard shoulder to traffic, taking forward the Advanced Motorway Signalling and Traffic Management Feasibility Study, and also including looking at successful examples of dedicated or tolled lane use in America. What will be your involvement here?
I will be involved in all that you have mentioned. We are grinding through the options and cost estimate work for all the enhancement schemes now, in support of proposals to go to the DfT and the Secretary of State on the exact shape of the investment programme over the next five years. Our input is drawing on our knowledge of the network, where the greatest need for additional capacity or safety mitigation is, and the most efficient means of delivery. I hope that we will then be able to progress the straight forward improvement schemes quickly, allowing ministers the time they properly need to assess the options for introducing a charging regime for additional capacity on the routes identified in the July Roads Command Paper: ‘Roads – Delivery Choice and Reliability’.
What kind of Highways Agency can we envisage in 2020 e.g. with the introduction of road tolls and road pricing?
There are many, many variables that will shape what our strategic road network will look like in 2020 – price of energy, levels of demand and congestion, changing patterns of work and leisure, and many more. I don’t know exactly what the network will look like, nor what the Highways Agency that manages that network will look like. But I do know that the pressures of increasing demand, an expectation of absolutely predictable journey time, intolerance of death and serious injury to users and staff, and the need to run our business with little or no adverse impact on the environment will all shape our journey to 2020.
Road tolls and pricing might be one of the tools to help us on that journey but the Highways Agency of 2020 will have developed and deployed many other tools and techniques besides. Who knows, cars and trucks may be under totally automated control through the busiest sections of motorway.
Will you be developing more collaborative procurement methods in the future e.g. of local authorities and stakeholders joining together. Will this involve new contracting methods?
The Highways Agency has, in the past, been one of the more progressive clients in the move from traditional contracting arrangements to more efficient, flexible and collaborative procurement approaches. A surprisingly large number of firms regard us as their single largest client, and we in turn place great reliance on many of those suppliers. So we continue to work with those key organisations to deliver more quickly, more innovatively, and more safely whilst securing a fair margin for the supplier and value for money for the agency.
Beyond that, I am happy to explore how we can form alliances with other highway authorities if they further these aims. The Midlands Highways Alliance has had some success, though we have not yet managed to extend the model to other areas. As local authorities increasingly draw on the same supply chain as us to maintain their networks, I expect the suppliers to seize the opportunities of sharing resources and integrated planning of work to be something that brings them competitive advantage and ultimately benefit to both the local authority and to the agency.
Are highways contractors subject to any accreditation or kite mark scrutiny e.g. with road surfacing, infrastructure or traffic management products with the consideration of road safety?
The Highways Agency's requirements for works are set out in the various Specifications and Guidance produced by the agency. These requirements are aimed at getting best value and include any relevant quality systems where this is appropriate. These include National Highway Sector Schemes for contractors working in particular sectors (e.g. traffic management). Safety is a key consideration in producing any requirement.
Each contract identifies the specific performance and accreditation requirements through the specification. In the selection process contractors bidding for work on the Highway Agency network are then assessed in terms of their technical ability and capability in delivering these requirements. To support this process, the Highways Agency carries out regular accreditation of its key highway suppliers using its Capability Assessment Toolkit (CAT) and Global Health and Safety Assessment Programme.
On the eve of the 50-year anniversary of the motorway what do you consider to be its greatest achievement?
The motorway has been an enabler of social change, bringing frequent and relatively low cost travel over long distances within the reach of most of the population. It has revolutionised the supply chain for goods to factories and shops, to the point that deliveries are almost always ‘just in time’, that stock levels are low or non-existent, and the cost of transport is a very modest proportion of the value of the goods.
The motorway has also revolutionised the way that we live. People are now able to commute and to make business journeys over much longer distances than ever before, and to move to a new job in a new area without needing to move home. In turn that has made it easier for families to maintain two careers based on one home location – changing the face of the workforce. But most of all, the motorway has allowed almost everyone to access any part of the country in their own personal transport – bringing a sense of freedom unknown to earlier generations.
How will you balance road productivity with the green agenda?
We are committed to limiting our impact on the environment, especially when it comes to major road schemes. Our supply chain and contractors already play a vital role in this.
As an agency we’re focused on sustainable development. But our challenge is two-fold: to ensure our network and the surrounding environment are fit for future generations, and to make sure our activities and practices have as little adverse impact as possible on the wider environment.
To help meet this challenge we produced our first Sustainable Development Action Plan in 2007, bringing together experts into a project board to take forward our vision for how to support sustainable development. This year (2008-09) we published an updated plan on our website (www.highways.gov.uk), which supports the government’s five guiding principles of sustainable development:
1: Living within environmental limits
2: Achieving a sustainable economy
3: Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society
4: Promoting good governance, and
5: Using sound science responsibly.