27 April 2022 | Innovation | Our Work

Innovation Festival: Councils making networks available for trials

Blackpool Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, NY Highways and Reading Borough Council are making their highway networks available for trials as part of this year’s Local Council Roads Innovation Group’s (LCRIG) Innovation Festival.

Here, LCRIG catches up with representatives from the local authorities to find out more and get their views on innovation.

                                               

Ian Large                                                                          Dwayne Lowe

(Performance Manager at Blackpool Council)                (Head of Highways at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council)

 

                                                     

Ross Bullerwell                                                                  Sam Shean

(Managing Director at NY Highways)                               (Highways & Traffic Services Manager at Reading Borough Council)

 

Q. Why is innovation so important?

RB: “Innovation is the cornerstone for sustained improvement in highways, without innovation the industry simply plateaus and we don’t move on.

SS: “As Reading Borough Council is a small local authority with a small highway maintenance budget, it becomes vitally important that we seek out and bring innovation to Reading to make the best use of available funding. We cannot afford to do our own innovation, so will look for organisations like LCRIG, along with SME partners to provide the innovation that we can use. We need to stretch our budgets as much as possible and innovation is the key to doing this.”

DL: “Having a culture of innovation within our teams and services is so important on several fronts:

It develops and encourages colleagues to seek innovation and promote their ideas.

It encourages a culture of seeking solutions to challenges that we face now and will in the future.

It boosts creativity within teams and confidence of colleagues.

It develops a common passion for delivery and for successful delivery.”

IL: “Innovation brings results and success, but more importantly it points to the road in front of us, it has to be part of the normal make up of what we do, current and future challenges will need us to be innovative and agile. The demands placed on us all and the areas we need to address cover a wider remit so we will be better placed to meet this demand by taking this stance and thinking of the now and next. It also allows you to add value, value in all aspects of what can be delivered. If you don’t innovate, you will stand still and the solutions you have to meet challenge begin to lose value and relevance.”

 

Q. What do you hope to get out of your participation in the Innovation Festival?

DL: “I hope to learn and network with colleagues. Opportunities for learning and networking have been sparse of late and it will allow the sector to re-connect and share innovations that have been developed and employed over the last few years, helping the whole sector with our common challenges.”

RB: I want the festival to bring local authority innovation to the fore. The local authority highways network represents 98% of the UK’s roads but innovation on those roads is under represented, I really think the festival will put local authority innovation on the map.”

IL: “I’m looking forward to the scale of the event and the number of exhibitors and attendees that will generate discussion and hugely useful dialogue. I’m expecting to be surprised, engaged and have an enjoyable time. The wealth of subject matter is exciting and covers the world of highways and beyond. The format is new and fresh and offers a change to anything that’s gone before. I welcome the chance to get feedback from the end user of the innovation, the staff who are actually hands on users right through to the people who consider what happens out on a highway network and the people behind the products, goods and services.”

SS: “I am optimistic that innovative highway maintenance techniques are presented that will enable a good sized trial in Reading. I am generally a very positive and optimistic person, and I have every hope of securing a partner to trial their product(s) in Reading.”

 

Q. In what ways do you plan on working with qualifying innovators and how will you help them?

SS: “I am providing a sizeable budget that will enable a good sized trial to be done that can be monitored, and which will pave the way for SMEs to bring their product to other LA’s from the learning in Reading.”

IL: “We plan to work with innovators in any way that best supports their aspirations, support is tailored to the need and the ask. There will be a range of support from just putting two people together to chat to real world on street trials and testing. We will engage with innovators and discuss their project and the next steps to reach the next goal or milestone that’s needed, offer straightforward simple support that can be accessed easily. More like phone a friend than complete a longwinded application process the aim is to support and promote good ideas and innovation collaboratively working together to help make things happen.”

RB: “Whilst we will guarantee to provide trials for winning innovators in North Yorkshire, as part of the Innovation Board, I would also like to help mentor those smaller companies in the infancy of their innovation story.”

DL: “Develop an understanding of the product / method, what the opportunities are and to share widely with colleagues and other councils through supporting trials in the Borough.”

 

Q. Can you provide any further details of the funding/trials you are making available?

SS: “Depending on the products available, I plan to bring up to £100,000 to the festival for one or more good sized trial(s). I would prefer carriageway and footway products that are easy to apply and extend the life of our most valuable asset, but I am open to a wide range of innovation ideas including flood reduction / urban SUDs, winter maintenance, decarbonising our very carbon orientated industry etc.”

RB: “Whilst the trials will depend on the category, these will be on a real network with real funding support that provides feedback and assessment of each product. Those with the best results will be supported in bidding to become embedded within North Yorkshire term maintenance contract.”

DL: “This is yet to be determined but our trials will focus on carriageway patching / sealing / preservation solutions.”

IL: “Throughout the festival and as part of the process the best innovations will be voted on, this feedback will come from everyone – the operational staff that actually use goods and services and the asset managers who procure the same. The important feedback and key is the end user, what do they like and what do they want to see happen out on the network what will make things more efficient, more productive, safer and just generally better. From this there will be funding available to support trials and highway networks in which to undertake the trials.”

 

Q. How can other councils help support and take forward innovative ideas?

DL: “By sharing good practises and developments with materials and their suppliers and by engaging with partners to assist in trialling and developing innovation that results in benefit to all highway authorities.”

IL: “Through LCRIG and their membership there is a whole range of information and opportunity available. The range of innovations and companies with new and exciting products is currently growing at pace. Councils should be open to supporting trials and taking a different view of surface treatments and highway asset management. there are more options to look after this valuable asset than there ever. The work LCRIG continues to do pushes this link. Innovation is a two way street, push and pull, challenge vs innovation. For innovators to look for solutions they have to understand the challenge. Good old fashioned talking and communication is the first step, get active, get involved and start that discussion.”

RB: “The key is to attend the festival, bring your representation and see the fantastic innovations that available to the industry. Come with an open mind, remember that it’s ok for some innovations not to work, it’s the nature of the discipline, but those that do can lead to huge budget savings, carbon reduction or simply a slicker operations. Be brave, offer trials and adoption where you can and take the plunge; we need to support innovations that have the potential to improve the customer journey, which is the basic fundamental purpose of our industry.”

SS: “Join LCRIG – its even got ‘innovation’ in their name! A knowledge sharing and very supportive organisation who are forward thinking and support local authorities. Share experiences (good and bad) so that we can learn from one another. Try to fund some of the trials coming out of the LCRIG Innovation Festival.”

 

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Local Council Roads Innovation Group’s (LCRIG) Innovation Festival will be a first of its kind for the highways sector – with authorities already committed to making their road networks available for trials along with funding for qualifying innovators who participate in the event.

The new event, which will take place from 6-7 July at Newark Showground, has been established to ‘make the case for innovation’ and will bring together local authorities, central government, the supply chain, associations and academia.

Exhibitors are able to request to be included as a qualifying innovator to be eligible for innovation funding and/or trials and the Infrastructure Innovation Board and delegates will judge the qualifying innovations.

Find out more and register for the event here.