Continuing my series of blogposts exploring the background behind the sessions on the Local Authority Hub at Highways UK on 6-7 November 2019, this week takes me into the world of permitting, courtesy of Jeff Elliott, Highways Network Manager at West Sussex County Council and co-chair of the South East Highways And Utilities Committee (SE HAUC).
I started our chat not knowing much about permitting, so I asked Jeff to explain the basics to me. It soon became clear why Jon Munslow — Head of LGTAG National Highways Asset Management Board — recommended this topic, and why Jeff’s insights are so relevant for Local Authorities right now.
Jeff will be sharing his experiences and answering your Permit Scheme questions on the Local Authority Hub (stand G50) at Highways UK on 6th November 2019. Jeff’s session fits into a three-part series starting at 11:15am with DfT’s Street Manager team, followed by Jeff on Permitting, and then Elgin and team on the new live road closure service from one.network.
Why is Permitting important right now?
Jeff explained to me that in summer 2018 the Secretary of State for Transport (who at the time was Chris Grayling) wrote to all 153 English Local Highway Authorities (here’s a copy of the letter published by Gateshead Council) recommending they implement a Permit Scheme by 31 March 2019. The letter shares the findings from research published in June 2018 into the effectiveness of Streetworks Permit Schemes, and states:
‘The Government believes that operating a street works permit scheme is a far more effective way of proactively managing street and road works on the local road networks than operating under the older, more passive street works noticing system’.
It continues: ‘In addition to the benefits described above, I am convinced that permit schemes are the best way of reducing the congestion caused by street and road works. Furthermore, they will also help to enhance the benefits of the new street manager digital service which will transform the planning, management and communication of works.’
Noticing, or Permitting?
Under the current Noticing system (which has been in place before talk of Permitting arrived), when a utility company wants to dig up the road to do work on their equipment, they send a notice of intent (Electronic Transfer of Notices, or EToN) to carry out their works to the Local Highway Authority. The Local Highway Authority can challenge by exception if there are conflicts in timing or other needs from others for that bit of road. But they can’t control when or for what works notices are submitted.
Under a Permit scheme, there is a greater need for the Local Highway Authority to review, check and co-ordinate activities related to the intention to undertake works.
Pressure on resources
As Jeff knows from experience of implementing Permit schemes in many authorities across the south of England, it requires additional staff, training, and a cultural shift to make it a success.
Introducing a Permit Scheme involves extra work for a Local Authority used to running a Noticing system. For many, it is simply not clear how the benefits outweigh the costs and risks of change.
Listening to the concerns of colleagues, Jeff set about finding ways to lessen the difficulties. He is learning from his own experience, and sharing this with other councils to help them implement Permit Schemes that generate tangible value and benefits to the Authority, utilities companies, and road users.
Jeff’s experience has taught him that:
- Using a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) tool helps to get teams thinking how a Permit Scheme can bring additional benefits / save costs elsewhere. Jeff helped develop a basic CBA tool available from DfT, but recognises that other tools are available.
- The approach needs to be tailored to each local authority’s needs — a seaside town will have different needs from a city / metropolitan borough or rural county.
- It is important to recognise that once you have the team and the system set up, there are many other benefits over and above simply complying with permit scheme requirements.
The cultural shift – challenges and benefits
The biggest change and challenge is ultimately a cultural one. The team who run a Permit Scheme are funded by the charges levied on utility companies. This charge pays for the Local Highways Authority to provide a co-ordination and facilitation service with tangible benefits to the utility companies. These benefits may include secured road booking slots, and opportunities to coordinate works with others and reducing costs.
Local Highways Authorities did not charge for the services under the Noticing scheme, so this is a big change. But, with the team and systems in place, it is also possible to better co-ordinate licensing of activities under a Section 50 notice, such as the placement of skips and scaffolds, and closure of roads for street parties / events. Although these activities do not need a Permit or Notice, and no charges are levied, the licensing activities still need to be coordinated.
The ability to manage permitting and licensing together via a dedicated team, gives the Local Highways Authority greater ability to co-ordinate what happens on their network. It also places them in a stronger position to reduce congestion and delays through better coordination.
So where does Street Manager fit in?
The introduction of Street Manager means that Local Highways Authorities and utilities companies will need to synchronise Permitting, streetworks (utilities) and roadworks (local authorities) data in their current systems with Street Manager. And Street Manager will provide a single syndicated source of data on all English streetworks, available to all registered users (i.e. Local Highway Authorities and utility companies), but not the general public.
Implications for local highway authorities
Before the various new means of managing our public roadspace settle down, it is hard to predict what the benefits will be for local authorities. What resources will they require? How much will the new services actually cost in total cost of ownership? What will the ROI will be and how many other services, such as asset management systems will they have to keep live, and for how long? Jeff is helping people to navigate this landscape.
Jeff is exploring pragmatic approaches to the recommendation from the Secretary of State that all English Local Highway Authorities will have a Permit Scheme in place by April 2020. Jeff is supported by DfT in his knowledge-sharing work. His recommendations on this topic include:
- When setting up a permit scheme, set aside part of the income to pay for a licence for a commercial provider to aggregate your streetworks, permitting and other roadspace activity and publish this to the public, apps and satnavs.
- Manage both permitting and licensing through the systems and teams you set up.
- Explore cost-effective solutions to integrate Street Manager with other activities, such as the management of Section 50 licenses.
- Apply your Permit Scheme in a standardised way following good practice and learnings of others as this supports those needing to book road space and reduces their costs whilst maximising the Network Management benefits.
What can the private sector do to support the changes?
For those authorities who have outsourced their traffic management services, private sector companies (such as Balfour Beatty, Ringway etc) will be faced with figuring out how best to design and implement a Permit Scheme.
Whilst the overall responsibility and duty of the Traffic Manager role sits with the Local Highway Authority, choices about how to design and implement the Permit Scheme will need to be managed thoughtfully. There is an opportunity to benefit from shared learning across local authority clients, whilst also understanding and respecting the special requirements of each Local Highway Authority.
Join Jeff Elliott at the Local Authorities Hub at Highways UK, on 6 November 2019, to learn more about Permitting, and benefit from his experience to help you make the best of your Permit Scheme.
Tickets are free, and attendance is accredited for CPD by CIHT. See what else is available for Local Authorities, and secure your place today.