Established during the Iron Age, the Roman occupation and the Middle Ages, it’s hardly surprising that the UK’s roads need care and attention. With almost three times more goods moved by roads than by water and rail combined, roads are economically vital. Around 90% of British passenger journeys are made by road, and lateness excuses usually feature “stuck in traffic” somewhere in the sentence. Roads can seem synonymous with problems, environmental harm and delays. But – the UK’s network is actually the second safest in Europe (after Sweden), with much of that supported through re-design and improvements to road quality, layouts and traffic flow.
As a major infrastructure contractor, Carillion works closely with Highways England (HE) and local communities to make the best of real opportunities to make that work more sustainable. The HE Road Investment Strategy seeks a net biodiversity gain, and our Morpeth Bypass team is doing exactly that. Working with local ecologists and schools to create an Education Hub, they used the working site as a classroom through 230 hours of volunteer time – introducing ponds, gardens, mammal tunnels and crossings, pollinator aids and bat preservation schemes. Our M6 team partnered with Natural England to introduce non-standard night working methodology, protecting badgers and great-crested newts. The A1 Leeming to Barton project team donated more than 350 trees and plants for their Sustainable Pollinator corridor project – more than were removed during the project – winning a Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice and Green World Ambassador status this year.
In a wider sense, roads can fit into the landscape if routes are chosen to carefully match the local topography, using local contours and hiding behind woodlands, but early contractor involvement and careful designer collaboration are essential. On the A465 Heads of Valley project, early involvement helped to design out the need for a 170-metre viaduct, creating a large embankment through processing excavated material for re-use on-site. Benefits can even be as simple as designing an uphill stretch to traffic lights – where cars are naturally slowing anyway – which then cuts carbon emissions over the lifecycle of road use.
Upstream thinking also helps to manage credible, on-time and on-budget frameworks – as well as planning visibility of the workload throughout the supply chain. Design benefits can then sit alongside better supplier agreements, category procurement plans and a more stable work pipeline across the project life. Positive impacts to local supply chains shouldn’t be under-estimated either – with 58% of Carillion’s UK spend going to local and SME firms in 2015, this is a key driver of UK growth. Staying with the A465, 84% of project funds went to Welsh companies, creating nearly £180M in economic benefit. National Skills Academy status meant that the project created 86 new-entrant trainee jobs and 27 apprenticeships. It’s worth noting the Transport Secretary’s recent point that those, “without a plan to create social value, (should not) expect to be at the front of the procurement queue.”
On a final thought, it’s vital to recognise the importance of engaging local communities in the design and delivery of road projects. Going well beyond the expectations of public consultations, reviews and design routes, road projects can offer a chance for genuinely inspiring community engagement. Returning to the A1 Leeming to Barton project, the Community Liaison Team have had great success through site visits and engagement with over 20 local schools, plus Bradford and Northumberland Universities. That link to the next generation of civil engineers is fundamental – and we’re seeing real change to support the HE’s aim of promoting a more diverse workforce with the best mix of talent for the future of our roads. Alongside work with a Help for Heroes Recovery Centre and two local Jobcentre Plus offices, the project team also created 12 new apprenticeships, engaged local land owners and raised over £20,000 for local and national charities.
Like anything in life, there will always be more that can be done to improve things. But – with thought and planning – the UK’s road projects offer real opportunities to connect communities, build skills, support economic growth and carefully manage their environmental impact.
David Picton will be in conversation with Stephen Joseph, executive director, Campaign for Better Transport at the Highways UK 2016 event in Birmingham this Thursday. They will be discussing “how sustainability is impacting on the highways sector.”