15 July 2021 | Collaboration

Industry Interview: Improving Reading’s roads

Reading Borough Council recently accessed the LCRIG Project Amber Framework Agreement contract and this has allowed the local authority to accelerate its specialist concrete road investment programme whilst obtaining competitive prices and a quicker start to the project than the conventional approach. LCRIG Content Director Alec Peachey caught up with Sam Shean, Reading’s Streetcare Services Manager, to find out more. 


Q. What made you decide to access the Project Amber Framework Agreement?

A. Reading Borough Council Highways department was exploring alternate framework options to utilise a specialist contractor that would enable us to bring forward the residential investment programme that the council is making. A citizens panel survey conducted by the council in November 2018 revealed that over 50% of respondents listed better roads and pavements as top of their lists for improvements. This led to us investing £9 million into the residential roads and pavement network over a three-year period from 2020/21 to 2022/23. The programme includes a combination of micro asphalt surfacing, hot rolled asphalt and specialist grouted macadam surfacing of concrete roads. This investment is over and above the annual Department of Transport LTP Grants and will enable the council to address the backlog in road maintenance and significantly improve our highway network. The LCRIG Project Amber Framework will support our ambitions through the use of the specialist concrete road/grouted macadam solution that is part of our three-year investment programme in Reading.”


Q. What benefits have you got from it?

A. “By joining LCRIG Project Amber Framework Agreement we have significantly shortened the procurement process, enabling a direct award to an approved contractor on the framework. This resulted in a far earlier start of works on site that would ordinarily not have been possible.”


Q. What message would you give to other councils who might be considering using it?

A. “The LCRIG Project Amber Framework is an extremely useful tool and a very accessible contract that compliments our exiting contract options. There are a range of approved SME contractors providing a range of services that allows a fast track facility for local authorities to use either by direct award or through a mini tender process.”


Q. What financial savings have you made?

A. “The savings are significant, we have not only saved on procurement/contract preparation resources time, but the LCRIG Project Amber Framework Contract has a 0% (yes, zero%) access fee, which allows us to invest all of the available funding into surfacing our highway network. We estimate that we are able to resurface an extra 5 to 8% additional road area, which is significant and allows us to tackle an extra section of carriageway that would not have been possible would there have been an access fee to pay.”


Q. How important is it that councils share best practice?

A. “Sharing best practice is vital to local authorities like Reading. With increased pressures to drive efficiencies, make funding go further and tackle the challenges still to come, efficiencies that come from sharing best practice are valuable. We only have a small resource of engineers and with the huge ambitions in Reading, we are always looking at how others are doing things differently, what innovation is being brought to the market and how we can drive efficiencies. This will help us not only to comply with our statutory highway maintenance obligations, but also accelerate the maintenance programmes to tackle the backlog we have.”


Q. What’s your background and how has it helped prepare you for the role you’re doing now?

A. “I spent 14 years at Cape Town City Council within the Roads Department, where I was involved is site survey, design and then onto the works depot delivering road & drainage schemes. I emigrated to England at the beginning of 1999 and have been with Reading Borough Council since March of that year, (I know, time does fly ?). I was appointed initially as highways engineer and progressed to senior engineer then assistant highways manager then onto my current role as streetcare services manager for almost seven years now, which includes managing the highway asset management & maintenance team, the highways & drainage works teams and the street cleansing team. I think the variety of my work that I have been involved with has prepared me for the role that I am in now, being a local authority we need to cover all highway maintenance duties within our small highway team including streetlighting, winter maintenance, flood reduction duties, as well as all the many wonderful things that seem to turn up daily.”


Q. In what ways does the sector need to evolve?

A. “I think evolving is inevitable in the modern world; we need to continually strive to do more with less, comply with ever increasing demands on the network, show that we are working efficiently to achieve our incentive funding from the DfT in full, ensure that we meet all of the recommendations of the Code of Practice: Well Managed Highway Infrastructure, as well as actioning our own recommendations that came out of our Highway Fundamental Service review.

“I would like to see the collaborative approach by councils continuing, and more forward thinking framework contracts, like the LCRIG Project Amber Framework, which perhaps can cover a wider range of SME services that are local to each authority and flexible enough for the SMEs to be able to join and leave as appropriate. This will not only help local SMEs, but also local authorities who tend to have a huge range of small service providers within their area and where trying to consolidate them into long term contracts often excludes SMEs from qualifying and rarely delivers a good or better price.

“I would also like to see an updated funding model from the Department for Transport that finally recognises the many years of underfunding of the public highway network and one which will allow councils to not only maintain a steady state on our classified carriageway network, but also on our unclassified carriageway network. A funding model that allows us to tackle the backlog without having to borrow capital to finance these essential works would be welcomed. We know that the highway network is in a continual state of decline at the moment and only with the right level of funding will we achieve a steady state that we and all our residents want.”


Q. Can regulation be a barrier to innovation?

A. As a publicly funded local authority we know that we have to be held accountable, so there has to be a balance with regulation vs innovation. Innovation will deliver alternate options to us and assist us in being more cost effective, improve efficiencies and ultimately save money for the council, thereby allowing us to invest more into our highway network. It will also help reduce our carbon footprint, reduce plastic use and assist all councils who have declared a climate emergency. Innovation can be expensive and outcomes not guaranteed, so sharing those outcomes, even if they haven’t worked as planned, will help us all to move in the right direction.”


Q. In what ways can the industry work better with local authorities and should there be a greater sharing of knowledge?

A. “I believe that the various bodies already set up are all doing this in their own way, from LCRIG, APSE, ADEPT, etc. All of them encourage best practice, benchmarking and knowledge sharing. Both LCRIG and APSE have a wonderful range of seminars where industry are able to pitch their innovations to the councils. There is the ADEPT Live Labs funded project taking place around the country with some really exiting and innovative ideas being trialled.

“I know that industry is already looking ahead to the green revolution and will want to be at the forefront of innovation to ensure that they can be as competitive as they can be in a very tough market. We are already seeing lower temperature materials, increased use of recycled materials and innovative carbon off-set schemes.”


Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

A. “To maximise the success of using these available tools, we need to stop and take stock amongst our busy lives to look at what others are doing, and the effectiveness of that. Taking the time to analyse these tools and look at best practice sharing will ultimately save us time and money in the long run to ensure we are doing the very best we can do for our residents.”


Will Britain, Head of Highways and Traffic Management, Blackpool Council commented:  “It is great to see that Reading Borough Council have used the LCRIG Project Amber Framework Agreement contract.

“What they’ve achieved can be replicated by other local authorities who want to work in partnership with the supply chain to deliver a safe and sustainable road network for their citizens.

“It is vital that this best practice is shared so please reach out to us if you have any questions and want to find out more.”

For more information on Project Amber, please contact us – [email protected].