This man has some important messages for Highways England's suppliers

Chris Taylor

Three major roads projects in England are being overseen by a single director, Chris Taylor. Here he speaks to Infrastructure Intelligence on safety, customer service and stakeholder relationships.

A notable change brought in at the birth of Highways England last year, was the introduction of a new senior position – the HE’s director of complex infrastructure. Creation of the role deserves some explanation. It goes to the heart of what the new organisation is now grappling with.

The man in the job is Chris Taylor. As problems with award of contracts for the A14 upgrade project in Cambridgeshire entered the media spotlight last year, it was Taylor answering the questions as the HE’s new director of complex infrastructure. 

So far he has oversight of a programme of three projects: the A14 upgrade, plus the proposed Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) and the A303 Stonehenge Bypass. Each will be an undertaking of civil engineering on a grand scale. The A14 total delivery cost is set at £1.5bn, the LTC tunnels and new connecting roads are estimated at £4-6bn and the A303 budget is likely to be around £1bn to £1.5bn.

"Some far smaller projects can be difficult or controversial, but the importance of stakeholder relationships is huge with all three of these schemes.” Chris Taylor

“There were two fundamental reasons why my role was created. Firstly, Highways England is aiming at a wider set of outcomes than its predecessor, focused on safety, customer and delivery. There were questions over how we put project teams together to deliver that,” Taylor says.

“Secondly, these schemes are significantly bigger than anything else in the current investment strategy. We had a choice: either build such projects individually and let them go off and do things their own way; or put them under a complex infrastructure programme and seek to drive knowledge and expertise on a more consistent basis.”

While the three projects are relatively large and will demand some heavy engineering, they don’t appear to present anything that has not been done before. The ‘complexity’ involved, Taylor says, is multi-layered.

“Scale is certainly part of it, as are questions of funding and stakeholder interest. Some far smaller projects can be difficult or controversial, but the importance of stakeholder relationships is huge with all three of these schemes,” he says.

“There is also the scale of supply needed. We need to consider carefully how we put the delivery teams together, plus there is the pace at which we’re being asked to deliver. The A14 programme has been brought forward two years and we’ve been set a target of starting work on the A303 by 2020, which is hugely challenging. Once the required pace of delivery is layered on top of all the other demands, it can be seen what we mean by complex.”

Problems with procurement of one of the main contracts for the A14 project has highlighted the change of approach that the HE wants to see from its suppliers.

A contract for detailed design of the whole project was awarded to an Atkins CH2M joint venture in June 2015. For construction, the scheme was split into four sections. Contractors would be appointed for supporting design development on the agreement that they would subsequently build those sections if government gave the project the green light – which it did in May this year.

One main contract, principally involving demolition of the existing A14 viaduct and remodelling of local roads in Huntingdon, will not be tendered until 2019. A second was awarded in June last year to a Costain/Skanska joint venture, for two of the works packages: widening three miles of the A1; and building a new 12 miles long, dual-three-lane bypass south of Huntingdon.

“We want suppliers to step outside their traditional roles and take responsibility for long term safety and other desired outcomes around stakeholder relationships and customer service.”

The fourth package of work, for reconstructing about 10 miles of the A14 between Swavesey and Milton, was not awarded initially as none of the bidders met the HE’s prequalification criteria. They were effectively told to rethink their approach.

Taylor explains: “Whole life safety has become an acutely important aspect for major projects. Our commitment to government is to reduce numbers tragically killed on our roads by 40% by 2020. This was partly key to it – the bidders’ approach to safety for the customer and for maintainers during and after the works.”

What was missing from the tenders for the Swavesey to Milton contract was effectively a change in the language of their intent, Taylor says. The HE now wants its contractors to be stating what they will do to design and build safer roads and to take aim at its other targets.

“We want to know what they’re bringing to drive the whole agenda,” Taylor says. “We want suppliers to step outside their traditional roles and take responsibility for long term safety and other desired outcomes around stakeholder relationships and customer service.”

The Swavesey to Milton contract was retendered and awarded to a Balfour Beatty and Carillion joint venture in September last year. An integrated delivery team was then formed formed between the HE and its A14 designers and contractors. Work has turned to how best to build a major upgrade of a road carrying 80,000 vehicles per day and twice the national average of HGVs. 

Planning of the project is being done with the help of a Mission Room, a 360degree interactive video system. This is an example of some of the good work being done by the industry, says Taylor. MIllions of man hours are going into developing the A14 design to the Expressway concept, supported with similar levels of technology used on Smart Motorways.

“I’m confident the A14 is going to be the safest A-road we have. As an Expressway-type road, it’s going to be a top-end A-road. We’ve got opportunity here to build something of very high quality for safety and customer experience,” he says.

“Regarding the LTC and A303, absolutely the idea is for these to follow the same principles,” Taylor says. “As much as possible, we want it all to reach other projects as well. The amounts of money may be different, but the principles absolutely still apply.”


Chris Taylor on....


“What our safety aim looks like is safe construction and making sure that when the rebuilt A14 opens, it is significantly safer than what it replaces, for those that use it and maintain it. We’ve got the space to start again. How can we make it the best?

“It has to come from design. To reduce risk to maintainers and operatives, we’re clustering M&E equipment together and creating alternative, safe access to our network from off-network points. These are the kind of things we’re looking for from bidders.

“During construction, if we’re going to do four times the work, we cannot have four times the tragedies. Brutally it’s about setting higher expectations as a client.”

....stakeholder relationships:

“While these schemes will produce regional and national benefits for the country, their impacts will be felt locally.

“There is a lot of value to be gained from working closely with local stakeholders, learning where areas are sensitive, or how we can protect or enhance the things that people value.

“We’re now doing more to give value back, through investment in jobs and skills in local communities. In Cambridgeshire we are working to support the setting up of an engineering training academy with a local college. Some of the trainees may work on our projects or those of Network Rail or others, but the skills base is the important thing for the local area. The Local Enterprise Partnership is helping with this.”

....customer service:

“The importance of our relationship with customers is a big message for us. It’s partly about giving them better, more reliable information, bringing technology from Smart Motorways.

“But it’s also about improving motorists’ experience when driving through our roadworks. How can we make it better? We’ve got a full 3D interactive model. We can mock up roadworks and test how the signing works to reduce uncertainty and therefore incidents.

“A really big message for the supply chain is that yes they are there to construct a road, but when they take possession, they become part of our operational organisation. They must be prepared. It’s a much more integrated role we want from our suppliers and they have to set an expectation from their suppliers too.”