15 December 2021
Brian Fitzpatrick, Managing Director of Fitzpatrick Advisory, speaks to the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) about working with the next generation of engineers and his passion for wildlife.
Q. What work experience did you have before moving into highways?
I left school at 16 and one of my first jobs was effectively as a messenger, a runner under the Thames Barrier when it was being built, making sure instructions and queries were responded to quickly between teams.
After that early experience I joined the Hazardous Waste Unit within the Greater London Council working with the London Fire Brigade, as part of a small team managing the movements of hazardous material and sometimes reacting to illegal hazardous waste dumping.
I found my technical home and my career path working in New Scotland Yard’s control rooms. I joined the Traffic Signal Fault Control Centre, working shifts responding to signal failures and other problems and identifying ‘fixes’ in a dynamic 24/7 environment. In those days traffic signals technology was relatively primitive compared to now.
I went to college for the next seven years whilst progressing through roles as a traffic control engineer, a traffic modeller and a transport planner before moving into more project and management focused roles.
Those elements of customer responsiveness in the job, the need to solve problems, come up with technical solutions and answers and then as part of a team to execute those solutions, have defined my professional life, I have always sought roles which contain that problem solving satisfaction.
Q. What has been your career highlight up to now?
There have been quite a few ‘highlights’ and adventures along the way, I am lucky enough to have worked internationally as well so it’s difficult to pick out one job or project. The one that had the most impact and the most diverse elements was the redesign of Vauxhall Cross as a critical part of regeneration in the area.
Proving that we could create a new bus station and plonk it on top of a tube station next to a railway station in the heart of the biggest gyratory in central London was a four year project, challenging but extremely rewarding. There was a TV show about it, I met Prince Charles as a major landowner in the area, briefed Glenda Jackson who was Minister for London, and I even presented the plans to MI6 inside their building. Developing DASHA has been fun and revelatory as well so far.
Q. What is the main way that today’s highways sector differs from the one you first joined?
Surprisingly new technology is only now starting to make inroads into the sector but will help change the way we do things which have largely remained unchanged since the 90s.
There is less hierarchy now, the sector is visibly more equitable and diverse. I think discipline silos are shrinking as well. That is good because it means old highways heads like me can get together with the next generation of tech savvy engineers, people used to using digital tools as customers and familiar with the potential of them, to make sure that future highways tools and processes are fit for purpose and effective for councils from the start.
Highways work is increasingly part of a broader policy outcome now rather than solely the generation of engineering outcomes, although well designed infrastructure will remain critical to our work.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Reallocating road space away from the car at Vauxhall Cross in the 90s was a massive challenge and a first at that scale. The creation of extra road capacity induces traffic so I conceived, tested and had to persuade many stakeholders that the restriction of capacity, done in a controlled and manageable way at Vauxhall Cross, might also work allowing the bus station to be built there on reallocated road space. The idea was based on work done by Phil Goodwin and others which I had read, the project got quite a lot of publicity at the time.
We set up a year long traffic management pilot scheme gradually restricting capacity and closing off lanes. We monitored the traffic impacts at key locations within a 10 mile radius from Vauxhall Cross to give confidence that we could make the required road layout changes without bringing central London to a halt.
The work was published in different places, at a photo opportunity I was formally presented with a cheque by the Mayor of London for the bus station to be built, and the bus station is now the second busiest in London. I think there is a plan to make the Cross two way working now which is fantastic and would have been inconceivable without the work we did back then.
Q. What do you think LCRIG Insight readers would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a member of the Kent Wildlife Trust and chase butterflies in the county from April to October.
Q. What do you think is the key to accelerating innovation within the roads sector?
Connectivity will accelerate innovation. Highways asset and network management will increasingly be associated with liveable places, and health, economic and well being outcomes for our communities. The idea that the road itself is no longer the sole ‘customer’ will create different perspectives of the value well maintained neighbourhoods (with roads in them!) can generate for everyone.
That cultural shift about the purpose of our work, and the digital connectivity which things like DASHA bring, will unlock the silos in the sector. The next generation of technology, building on a council’s reshaped service model, will then be truly awesome.
Connectivity was the key reason we created DASHA, based on my own experience of working in a local authority and as an independent Councillor and Mayor.
Q. How different will the sector look in 10 years time?
Council officers, using aggregation tools and super apps will be able to connect to anything to see everything. The way we collect asset data and actionable intelligence will be increasingly automated, the service will be seen as part of a wider environmental obligation growing over time. Council officers will be guardians of our built and natural environment.
Q. What is the best way of removing barriers to innovation?
Local authorities should be allowed to trial innovation in real world conditions without fear of failure, and be funded for it.
Below is an update on other innovation initiatives that the LCRIG team have been busy working on over the last few months:
Innovation in Highways
In November 2021, LCRIG published a report entitled ‘Innovation in highways’. The report highlights some interesting findings on the differing approaches between local authorities and the challenges around implementing innovation in highways.
You can access the full report here.
The LCRIG / Steve Berry ‘Think Exceptional’ Innovation fund, supported by WJ Group
Last month (November 2021) the first companies to receive funding as part of the LCRIG / Steve Berry Think Exceptional Innovation Fund were announced.
Connor Specialist Paving (Tac-Grid), Community Models, Fitzpatrick Advisory (DASHA) and NY Highways have been selected to receive a share of the £150,000 Innovation fund, facilitated by LCRIG. For more information on the Innovation fund, please click here.
Keep up to date on all LCRIG initiatives by subscribing to our weekly e-newsletter here.