What does good look like when it comes to street works? National Grid’s Jeremy Bending explains why the need to minimise impact on both road users and the local community is central to how work should be planned.
Street works are an unavoidable part of delivering gas and electricity safely and reliably across the country.
Each year National Grid undertakes 80,000 street work excavations in the UK’s roads. We are fully aware of the impact this can have on communities and transport networks – so we do whatever we can within the scope of our legal and regulatory obligations to minimise disruption.
The recently launched ‘What Good Looks Like’ pledge for street works is underpinned by five key principles: cooperation, communication, quality, safety and impact reduction. I’m pleased to report that National Grid has made progress in each of these areas.
Cooperation pays off
Working with Highway Authorities and other utilities, we’re completing as many different works as possible at the same time, which reduces the number of openings in the road. We demonstrated the advantages of this approach in the 72-hour ‘dig fest’ in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, when we worked over a weekend with other utility companies on more than 100 different jobs along a one-kilometre stretch of road.
We were delighted that our efforts at cooperation were recognised with two nominations in the partnership category of the National Joint Utilities Group (NJUG) awards. One was for collaborative working with Westminster Council and Thames Water to minimise disruption using our innovative keyhole technology. The other was for our work with a host of utilities on the Midland Metro Advance Diversion Works.
We’ve started sharing our planned road works for the next seven years with all Highway Authorities. We’re also sharing best practice such as the development of our keyhole technology. This sort of innovation is important because the money we save in road closures should help minimise costs to energy consumers.
We continue to communicate with all our stakeholders to keep them informed on planned and ongoing works. For customers, we have an extensive programme of notification by letter. For motorists on the move, we have invested in matrix signs on the busiest routes.
In addition, we provide information on what businesses affected by our road works can expect from us, including compensation, which we’ve shared with the rest of the utility sector.
Thanks to ongoing investment and improvements, people passing our work sites can expect in the future to see information boards telling them the status of the job, its expected duration and the reason why there may not be anyone occupying the site at the time – for example, because concrete is being left to cure.
Safety and quality
Safety is our No 1 priority. National Grid was instrumental in drafting the new Safety Codes of Practice. All our work is carried out and supervised by people accredited under the New Roads and Street Works Act (NRSWA).
We were part of the successful campaign to maintain, not devolve, the existing NRSWA accreditation. Our aim is to ensure the complete safety of both our workforce and the public when highway work is being carried out.
Hand in hand with safety is our ‘right-first-time’ approach. We support the National Performance Scorecard that provides a benchmark for street work and encourages the street works community to share best practice.
The need to minimise impact on both road congestion and access to premises is central to how National Grid plans work.
Where appropriate, our people work 24/7 or extended hours to complete work as quickly as possible, and we don’t leave sites unattended without good reason, for example to let concrete dry. The charges that can be levied under Lane Rental encourage 24/7 working, but we have to balance the costs against the benefits as ultimately these costs could be passed on to the end consumers.
Another way performance can be improved is with new materials. We continue to work on this with bodies such as Transport for London (TfL) and hope that ways can be found to update or relax legislation to allow new approved materials to be adopted.
We’re acutely aware of the impact of some of our work on motorists. Wherever possible, we adopt routes to avoid causing congestion. For example, instead of excavating a long section of the A40 in London, we chose an alternative route across a golf course.
‘Good’ has many faces; these are just some of them. National Grid applauds the ‘What good looks like’ initiative; we look forward to supporting it. We hope that, by publicising what we’re working towards and what we’d like to see happen, we’ll add to the momentum behind this valuable programme.
(Jeremy Bending, Director, Gas Distribution – Network Strategy, was speaking at the launch of ‘What Good Looks Like’ at Local Government House, Smith Square, London.)
To read more
It’s saving time, money and minimising disruption for the public – Ian Hopper talks about National Grid’s pioneering keyhole technology for street works. Click here to view.