26 July 2022 | Innovation

Industry Interview: Mark Macgarty, DfT

Mark Macgarty, Senior Policy Advisor, Local Roads Strategy and Funding, Local Transport, Department for Transport speaks to the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) about ADEPT’s Live Labs 2 programme. 


Q. For anyone that doesn’t know, please can you explain what ADEPT Live Labs 2 is?

A. “Live Labs 2 is a £30 million competition funded by the Government and organised by The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT). Live Labs 2 will involve trialling innovative decarbonisation proposals from Local Highways Authority (LHA)-led public-private joint ventures, with a particular focus on the decarbonisation of Scope 2 and 3 emissions in the construction, operations, maintenance, and decommissioning phases of the local roads lifecycle.”


Q. In what ways do you hope the initiative will encourage new ideas to help drive innovation forward?

A. “It’s primarily about stimulating the appetite and ability to innovate amongst local authorities, SMEs, major contractors, and academic institutions. DfT funding is obviously key to underwriting the risk inherent in innovation but so are the parameters set by ADEPT – setting the scope of the challenge around Scope 2 and 3 infrastructure carbon emissions, as well defining what ‘good’ looks like in terms of collaboration and robust monitoring of Lab outcomes.”


Q. Why have you put a focus on supporting the creation/maintenance of net zero highways and local roads as part of the programme?

A. “Why not! We all know decarbonisation is a key national and international strategic objective. Transport is central to all this, being responsible for over a quarter of emissions in the UK. What’s really different about Live Labs is the emphasis on infrastructure carbon – much innovation in road decarbonisation has focused primarily on the tailpipe through areas such as promoting modal shift, behavioural change, and technological advancement. But more focus needs to be dedicated to decarbonising the construction and maintenance of our roads. Hence the particular focus for Live Labs on the technically-challenging area of Scope 2 and 3 infrastructure carbon emissions.”


Q. How can the industry get involved with Live Labs?

A. “Local authorities are central to this, and collaboration is key. Pick up a copy of the Live labs prospectus from the ADEPT website (when available!), and talk to other local authorities with whom you might consider a partnership to innovate at scale; SMEs working in areas with a particular interest for you which you’d be interesting in deploying; contractors for their views on where innovation savings could be made on your network; and academic institutions for ideas and technical expertise. SMEs and contractors, whilst not able to lead a bid themselves (this is for LAs only), are also encouraged to reach out and start conversations around what could be achieved with the significant sums at stake from this competition.”


Q. Can you explain what the process involves?

A. “In a nutshell – an eight-week competition period in August and September; following an initial down-select, a Dragons Den-style pitch with key industry figures scheduled for October; then following another downselect an opportunity for shortlisted bidders to develop an SOBC-type document to ensure legal, procurement etc challenges have been considered and solutions developed. This is scheduled for Jan/Feb 2023. Successful trials are scheduled to kick off in April 2023.”


Q. What’s your personal role in helping to push the programme forward?

A. “Live Labs 2 is funded by DfT and developed by ADEPT. My primary role involves, on the one hand ensuring that Ministers are happy the £30m they are investing in this competition is value for money and that the competition meets key national strategic objectives; and on the other hand making the case to Ministers and Departmental colleagues that ADEPT has developed a really great programme which will bring significant benefits to the local roads sector. This is quite an easy case to make! I also work closely with the ADEPT team to ensure we agree on what the competition and programme design looks like, and to communicate this programme to the wider sector.”


Q. Can you outline the next steps in the programme?

A. “The competition period kicks off imminently – keep an eye on the ADEPT website for further details.”


Q. Why is innovation so important?

A. “This is a really great question that I think we could and should do a better job in answering. In a nutshell – innovation is an investment which ensures in the long-run we can do more with less, leaving more money in our pockets and more time to achieve our key goals. An innovative society has more jobs, more companies, more exports. Innovation is an opportunity which, when done well, enables societies to take the lead in the pursuit of key objectives such as decarbonisation or creating great transport systems for users; when done poorly, societies are led by more effective innovators. Innovative organisations grow; non-innovative organisations stagnate.”


Q. How is the DfT going to ensure it works closely with local highway authorities to take forward the new ideas and innovations that are brought about through Live labs 2?

A. “Another great question! And I’ll respond to your question with another question for anyone reading this – what CAN we do for the sector to ensure ideas and innovations are adopted more readily? A key question underlying the programme is why innovation appetite is slightly lower in the sector than we’d like, and we continue to try to understand the answer. Whilst we would love for LAs and supply chains to spontaneously adopt the great innovations that programme such as Live Labs introduce – and we hope and expect they will – we also want to understand if there’s anything further we can do to encourage and catalyse the wider take-up and development of innovation in the sector. I’m very keen to hear your ideas!”