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5 steps to a rethink on roadbuilding

The next five years will see a huge leap in spending on roads – but Tarmac Contracting’s Paul Fleetham argues that the industry needs to change its approach to take advantage.

Our national roads programme will see Highways England’s investment in our strategic network leap from £1bn in 2014 to £4bn in 2021. 

This is a big change and the industry needs to rethink its approach to make it happen. Greater productivity, efficiency and partnership – truly lean working - will be vital to how we work in the future.

It needn’t be complex. There are five big but simple steps to changing how the industry works and achieving this goal.

Step one – experience

Harness the experience of the whole supply chain from day one.

Teams on the ground have a wealth of practical knowledge – about people, materials, scheduling, delivery – all of it integral to a scheme’s smooth progress. Let’s all use it.

Step two – windows

Maximise the working window. Possession times for contractors are unlikely to increase, so instead let’s look at the use of that time.

“Maximise the working window. Possession times for contractors are unlikely to increase, so instead let’s look at the use of that time”

Phasing site access can help. For example, closing a slip road earlier than the main carriageway isn’t as disruptive as bringing forward a full carriageway closure, but would allow extra time to get equipment to site so material is ready to use once the carriageway is handed over.

We can also create more time through innovative technology. Using a warm mix asphalt, material can be mixed at a lower temperature, cooling times reduced and the asphalt laid can be trafficked earlier.

Step three – efficiency

Step three is efficient operational delivery. We have to balance material supply against haulage capacity.

There’s pressure to get a higher tonnage of product laid each night, but this isn’t possible if the material can’t get to site. One load per vehicle per night isn’t sweating our assets.

Involving the contractor earlier in project design allows for a more efficient system of deliveries to be planned and built in to the works programme.

Step four – collaboration

Step four is critical. We must encourage genuine collaboration and partnership across the supply chain.

We can do this with greater contract consistency. A lack of uniformity in major scheme design hinders planning for the use of aggregates.

If we introduce regional forums we can share information, greater design consistency and make sure we work to the best and most efficient designs, allowing contractors to think ahead.

Working constraints, buildability issues and risk will be better known upfront so allowances can be made to cover them from the outset. Project delivery times are less likely to slip.

“If we introduce regional forums we can share information, greater design consistency and make sure we work to the best and most efficient designs, allowing contractors to think ahead”

The new Highways England Engagement Council is a great example of a collaborative forum in practice, which recognises the importance of tier one and two contractors in programme delivery and promotes and encourages the sharing of best practice.

Greater collaboration can also help with the planning of material supplies over the longer term and beyond the scope of one project, allowing contractors to meet demand and avoiding the need to import materials at greater cost.

These steps won’t help, though, if we don’t commit as an industry to taking them.

Step five – commitment

So, step five underpins the other four: a collective commitment to examine how we deliver our major roads projects. Through pre-planning and careful thinking we can reduce waste, engineer out inefficiencies and work smarter and leaner.

The challenge ahead for our sector is enormous.

A four-fold increase in project spend over seven years means we simply cannot continue using our finite resource – people, production or transport – in the same way.

We must embrace the opportunity to do things differently. These five steps are a fantastic start.

Paul Fleetham is managing director of Tarmac Contracting

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