Highways sector must collaborate to promote single voice

The industry needs to work together to promote a single voice for the future of the highways sector, says Philip Hoare, European managing director of Atkins' transportation division.

The transport industry must work together if it is to successfully innovate to overcome the challenges posed by the emergence of mega city trends and increased urbanisation. For the purposes of this article, I will define innovation as how we bring fresh eyes to the ongoing challenges we face as we try to safely, reliably and efficiently move more people around more comfortably with less overall spend.

Innovation is the answer to the capacity challenge. We must apply this thinking to both new infrastructure investment and to how we manage and maintain the assets we already have. Part of the puzzle is the individual investment which organisations will continue to make in R&D initiatives aimed at bringing the next technological shift to market, but it is also more than that. 

As an industry, we have a responsibility to create the right environment for all businesses, large and small, to flourish. Fostering an environment in which the business community is heard, including SMEs who are so often the instigators behind new ways of doing things, is critical. Creating the right conditions for a healthy conversation with government is key to generating confidence that there will be investment in new programmes of work, which offset the risk businesses take on board when they invest in R&D. Getting this right has the potential to prove transformative for customers.

Steps have been taken towards this in several sectors and in transport specifically across aerospace, automotive and rail. While undoubtedly each faces its own individual sector challenges, the Rail Delivery Group, the Rail Supply Group, leading organisations and the trade associations have joined forces to create a sector deal with government to spearhead a transformation in the rail sector.  

Leading examples of innovation in the highways sector, such as the upcoming platooning trial led by the Department for Transport and Highways England, show the potential for what could be achieved if industry and government worked more closely together. To ensure that the industrial strategy is representative of our aspirations, roads must play a central role in making UK plc a success post Brexit.

So, what can we do to ensure that we speak with one voice and that central government understands what measures need to be put in place to promote an environment in which the highways sector can flourish? We know that when we speak to government inconsistently, our message gets lost and drowned out in dissonance. We need to be willing and ready to work together, to promote what we need as a collective in a uniform and consistent way, so that there can be absolutely no ambiguity about our intentions - a single voice for the future of the highways sector, in fact for the future of mobility.

Almost every journey in the UK uses our roads infrastructure and as we gaze into the future of connected autonomous vehicles and increasingly connected journeys, we need to consider how we will adapt our roads to maximise capacity while improving the travelling experience for our customers.  Creating a united front to build profile and position for the future certainly seems to be building momentum for the rail sector with campaigns like 'Britain runs on Rail' galvanising the whole industry towards a brighter future.

We must also consider that if we are to support the rebalancing of the UK economy and ensure that all the regions perform to their full economic potential, we need to be able to pack a punch. To do so, we need to embody a recognisable, visible and accessible form, so that we not only can address government, but also work with local and devolved bodies to help them secure the funding for new programmes of work. And we need to be able to speak to rail on the same level, so that we can ensure a blended approach to programmes which see the integration of the road and rail networks, such as HS2 and Crossrail. We also need to have a platform for enabling cooperation, such as knowledge exchange, between larger and smaller organisations.

So, my call to action is this: let's work together to find innovative ways of building the profile of the fantastic capability that we have in the highways sector. Let's collaborate and create a single voice to bring our industry together to influence government around the future of mobility. Focused on a new industry body, this collaboration would allow us to innovate more rapidly and effectively and will be vital in underpinning our national economic performance moving forwards.

We must step up and embrace our role in realising this. The time for us to act and build a stronger voice is now.

Philip Hoare is managing director of Atkins’ transportation division across the UK and Europe and will be speaking at the Highways UK event on 9 November 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham. 

Click here for further information about Highways UK.