18 October 2021 | Innovation | Collaboration | Environment | Our Work
Industry interview: A sense of pride
After a career in highways spanning more than 40 years, Kieran Collins, Highways Commissioner at Cheshire West and Chester Council, is retiring next month (November). Here, he looks back fondly on his time in the sector and provides an update on his plans for the future.
Q. What’s your background and how has it helped prepare you for the roles you’ve had at the council?
A. “I started in the design office in Clwyd County Council working on the design and construction of the A55 major dual carriageways. I had the great fortune to be trained by highly skilled and knowledgable engineers who were passionate about designing and constructing a major piece of strategic infrastructure across the North Wales Coast. As the A55 road building was coming to a close, I realised that the A55 network would need maintaining and I moved to maintenance and was involved with technical surveys to instigate what we now call life cycle plans and to understand the future financing of maintaining such a wide and varied collection of highway assets. I also moved to the local area office and was involved with the local community and the political interface of a local highway authority.
“All of these roles have given me a wide variety of experiences across the entire breadth of highway assets and an understanding of highway authority statutory responsibilities and working with and for our communities.”
Q. What positions have you held and is there one that you have enjoyed the most?
July 2016 – Present Day – Highways Commissioner – Cheshire West and Chester Council
2009 to 2016 – Area Highways Manager, Cheshire West and Chester Council
From August 2012 to August 2013 – I was seconded to the role of Commissioning Manager for Chester.
2001 to 2009 – District Engineer, Ellesmere Port Joint Highways Team, Cheshire County Council
1996 to 2001 – Principal Engineer, Cheshire County Council
1990 to 1996 – Senior Engineer Cheshire County Council
1989 to 1990 – Engineering Assistant, Trunk Road Unit, Clwyd County Council
1988 to 1989 – Assistant Area Surveyor, Clwyd County Council
1979 – 1988 Technician and Engineering Assistant, Clwyd County Council Road Construction Unit
“The one I enjoyed the most was being the District Engineer for the Ellesmere Port Joint Highways Team. This was good old fashioned municipal engineering and was an area based team that successfully delivered for the community of Ellesmere Port and Neston. The Joint Team was a collaborative arrangement between the former County and Borough Councils with political management being through a local highways committee, which was constituted with elected members from both councils. I was the lead officer for this committee and was the main point of contact for political issues and the elected member interface.
“The team delivered a wide range of functions such as highways statutory role, highways development control (s38, s278 and interface with s106 agreements with planning), third party insurance claims, significant capital and revenue expenditure, street lighting operations, streetscene and public realm works, as well as the customer interface.
“The team of 20 technical and administration staff, operated on “a joined-up basis” wherever possible and dovetailed delivery into efficient, customer focused service delivery for the benefit of the community. This highly customer focused and highly motivated team, took an innovative approach to problem solving, with a strong emphasis on a “can do, will do” approach which contributed to its success. When you have genuine collaboration and a highly motivated team, it is amazing what you can achieve and that includes having some fun.”
Q. What are your best memories of the time you’ve served with the council?
A. “Too many good memories, but working with good people who were passionate about what they do, their commitment at times, in the wee small hours to keep the network safe is explementary and I am still in awe to this day about some of the things I have been involved with.”
Q. What have been some of the main challenges you’ve overcome during your time in the job?
A. “Reorganisations, reorganisations and reorganisations without any review after the event to say, did it deliver what we wanted it to deliver. The reduction in highway service budgets will have an effect on the asset eventually, the highway is the biggest asset many councils will manage and it needs to be well maintained so that the public can go about their business safely and the economy can grow. No other service is used by so many people 24/7/365 yet we are but the poor cousins.”
Q. What would you say to someone who might be considering a job in highways?
A. “Go for it, grab the opportunity with both hands, there is no other industry where you will get the variety, great interest and subject matter, will meet committed and driven individuals and have sheer enjoyment in your career and it is also a lot of fun.”
Q. In what ways does the sector need to evolve?
A. “Collaborate more across all sectors private and public, work better together, share knowledge opening and freely, big data and AI is here, so get on board that bus and steer and drive it hard.”
Q. Can regulation be a barrier to innovation?
A. “It can be if you allow it to be. Regulations are there to help, so help change the regulations if they are stifling innovation. They should be flexible enough to encourage and drive innovation and not be a barrier.”
Q. In what ways can the industry work better with local authorities and should there be a greater sharing of knowledge?
A. “The industry has certainly changed over many years, local authority highway budgets have reduced and reduced, yet, local authorities, municipal engineers, and the private and public sector working in collaboration together, have managed to keep our networks safe and running in all weathers and in all conditions in a safe, efficient and cost effective manner. It’s that working together, for the end user that delivers the goods. The industry in its widest sense should provide the commercial space to genuinely share best practice, and genuinely share knowledge. At the end of the day, it’s the successful outcomes or the successful deliverables that the public wants.”
Q. What are your retirement plans?
A. “Have a short break but after that, my paddle board is looking very attractive and thankfully it has no method of receiving e-mails. Probably Bala lake on a Tuesday and the Llyn Peninsula on a Thursday if the weather permits, mine will be the RV playing the tunes. My home country is just beautiful so time to enjoy it more. I do however feel selfish in retiring as I have over 42 years of “stuff” in my head, have been there done that on so many occasions, that I feel it is my role to put something back into the industry, and help people learn from the mistakes and pitfalls we all make and to help the industry deliver more for the very limited £s that it receives.”
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
A. “When I look back over the past 42 years it makes me realise how lucky I have been. I feel enormously proud and very privileged to have worked with and alongside some brilliant colleagues and I have also been very lucky in having had wonderful support from colleagues in the teams that I have led and worked in. Great memories of working with great people, but now time to get on that paddleboard.”