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How Blackpool Council has taken a new approach to highways repairs and funding

Blackpool Council and Lafarge Tarmac are undertaking a four-year programme to revitalise the area’s highways through a planned maintenance programme.

Lafarge Tarmac is working with Blackpool Council and technology consultancy Gaist on a four-year £30m programme to tackle Blackpool’s highways maintenance backlog.

“In Blackpool, like many towns and cities, the highways network was falling into disrepair,” says Blackpool Council highway asset and network planning manager Will Brittan.

“The budget allocated from the corporate pot was insufficient to deal with all the problems and repairs. We found we were firefighting, we were just doing reactive repairs and no-one was satisfied.”

Lack of accurate asset data

Blackpool’s total maintenance budget was £1.2m and this was mostly spent on routine maintenance including patching potholes, and left little for preventative maintenance.

One of the problems the council faced was that it didn’t have an up-to-date and accurate assessment of the network. “So we did our own conditions survey to create an inventory of the network,” Mr Brittan explains. “This meant we could carry out accurate reporting on the state of the asset in 2009.”

“We found we were firefighting, we were just doing reactive repairs and no-one was satisfied”

Will Brittan, Blackpool Council

Blackpool worked with Gaist to develop bespoke survey methods known as Carriageway Treatment Surveys and Footway Treatment Surveys respectively.

Both of these surveys covered 100 per cent of its 500 km network annually and were plotted on an online Geographical Resource Platform.

This technology provides a visual picture of the condition of the network, including predicted deterioration and cost of rectifying the network to the required performance standard. 

“Unless you know what you’ve got with your asset and the value of it, you can’t make an assessment of its status,” Mr Brittan says.

“Not only in terms of real value but also social and economic value. This is particularly applicable in Blackpool where tourism is so important.

“The survey allowed the council to see that the highways network is the most expensive asset they own, and also see how much reactive repairs were costing them.”

Creating the right maintenance model

The team devised a funding model which required £30m of upfront investment over the four years to bring the network up to standard, but that would save £100m for the council over 25 years by reducing its reactive maintenance budget and cutting the annual cost of highways insurance claims.

“We consulted closely with Lafarge Tarmac to calculate the £30m figure and then reported this back to the council to present our case for the loan,” Mr Brittan says. “The executive committee agreed to a £30m loan for the project.”

This meant the council and Lafarge Tarmac could devise a preventative maintenance model that was backed up by a robust asset management plan.

“Blackpool was now considering the network on a whole-life basis rather than just moving from one project to the next patching things up,” says Lafarge Tarmac Contracting commercial director Andy Rowley.

The team split the borough into 66 regional areas and assessed the work needed in each. “This is about planned maintenance, not firefighting,” Mr Brittan says.

“We know when a certain section of road is about to turn, and we treat it before it does.”

“Better understanding of the asset means the council can spend money more wisely”

Andy Rowley, Lafarge Tarmac

They can predict deterioration and develop durable surface treatments and solutions for each individual road, plan the works, plan the traffic management and communicate with local people and road users about where and when the work will be taking place.

“We create whole-life solutions and can develop the optimum solutions for each road,” Mr Rowley says.

It’s all in the planning

The surveying technology can be constantly updated, meaning the council always has accurate information about the status of the highways network, which is two-and-a-half years into the four-year programme.

“Better understanding of the asset means the council can spend money more wisely,” Mr Rowley says. “And because work is planned in advance, the safety, quality and traffic management is better, too.

“Community engagement was very important and is easier to manage when the work is planned. We kept residents informed, which minimises complaints, and we’ve had no programme slippage.”

The work itself is often quite straightforward, and is made even more so by the degree of planning involved.

This model is attracting interest from other councils also looking to improve their highways maintenance. “Other local authorities are under pressure to patch up the network as cheaply as possible, but that is extremely short term,” Mr Rowley says.

“But Blackpool took a big step and made a longer-term investment, which other local authorities can learn from.”

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