The next 12 months hold challenges but also great promise for the highways sector.
With major investment programmes both under way and planned, we have a golden opportunity to develop the materials and methods we use, as well as the skills we need, to build resilient and sustainable road networks.
On the strategic network, Highways England’s first Road Investment Strategy (RIS) – a £15.2bn programme for England’s motorways and A-roads – is moving into its final phase. Major works due to get under way in 2018 include the ongoing roll-out of the smart motorways programme, covering projects on the M1, M62 and M23, as well as a multitude of other schemes to boost capacity.
The industry is already looking ahead to its objectives under RIS2 from 2020. Safety for road workers and users will remain of paramount importance, informed by ever greater collaboration across the sector and improved ways of working. Driving efficiency on the network will also be vital to maximise working windows and deliver a reliable experience for road users.
2018 will be an equally critical year for investment in our local highways. The chancellor unveiled the first new devolution deals for nearly two years in his Budget speech, allocating greater funding and powers for the West Midlands Combined Authority and the North of Tyne area to shape infrastructure investment.
With many local roads across the UK suffering from longstanding funding shortages, our industry needs to work with these and other local authorities to help them maximise financial resources while delivering for taxpayers.
“2018 needs to see greater investment in developing our techniques to futureproof our client offering”
In doing this, we must keep pace with the revolution in how we travel. Following spending announcements from Westminster and local authorities for charging infrastructure, 2018 will be the year that electric vehicles really gather traction and it will fall to our sector to plan for and deliver much of this infrastructure.
The key challenge will be around ensuring the highways industry has the resource, skills, capacity and capability to meet the demands for work on both the strategic and local networks.
This requires a considered and responsible approach to planning and managing the current and future workforce for highways projects. The sector needs to ensure it has clear visibility of workloads to supply the right skills to deliver what is a complex and evolving highways pipeline.
We must continue to cast our net wide to attract a diverse workforce, working closely with the wider construction industry to broaden our appeal and engage talent from the entire engineering sector.
2018 needs to see greater investment in developing our techniques to futureproof our client offering. We must continue to maintain a secure supply chain of raw materials, skills and services with strategic partnerships and an increase in capacity for our clients.
There are opportunities ahead in 2018 but our industry needs to be proactive and grasp them. For our business, that means continuing to strengthen our self-delivery model to meet our clients’ capacity needs, while fostering innovation through research and development into new and more durable materials.
Michael Conway is chief executive at FM Conway