Industry voice: National infrastructure initiatives are highlighting the need for high quality and up-to-date local authority street data, writes Simon Bailey, senior consultant, GeoPlace
One thing to bet on if the Government follows through with its recent pledge of 100% full fibre broadband coverage over the next five years is that there will be a lot of road digging around the country – and that is going to lead to a lot of grinding teeth.
Street and building works are a necessary but disruptive feature of modern life, often bringing delays and diversions on the roads and causing stress for people who live and work close by.
One of the major responsibilities of local authorities is to minimise that disruption, and sharing the relevant data is one of the big steps towards making this possible. It lays the ground for better operational decisions that can save the public, and those doing the work, from a lot of the associated problems.
A big element of this is the use of Local Street Gazetteers (LSGs), created by local authorities and providing the data to appropriate parties, and the National Street Gazetteer (NSG), compiled from the LSGs and managed by GeoPlace to provide a national hub of data free of charge for licensed users.
If councils work at keeping these accurate and up-to-date it will do a lot to reduce the problems caused by roadworks, utilities works and construction.
There are some good examples of what can be achieved through an intelligent use of the resources. One comes from Nottingham City Council, which has used its LSG to support the management of the local district heating network (DHN).
As with all DHNs, it distributes heat over large areas through a network of pipes, helps to eliminate the reliance on individual boilers, gas pipes and flues, and can save on energy usage and maintenance costs. But there are challenges in working effectively with contractors and utility providers, who need to know all of details of connections – such as a property’s location, householder contacts and information on a heating problem – and usually have to contact the council to obtain them.
Nottingham has made the process much easier by creating an app for its contractors that draws on the LSG to securely share links to the data they need. They can use the app to find a specific location, identified by a unique street reference number (USRN), and determine if and how their work could impact the district heating network. If they need more clarification they can get support from the council’s geographical information system team.
Highway authorities are using the NSG for purposes including the management of permit schemes, providing third parties with time to work on the roads and coordinating the activities. The data defines and underpins which streets require permits and supports the collaboration between authorities and statutory undertakers.
Leeds City Council has been among those taking this approach, drawing on the NSG and Additional Street Data – which provides details including height, weight and width restrictions and special designations such as speed limits, level crossing safety zones and streets with engineering difficulties.
This provides a wide range of extra information to the companies and individuals involved in street works, and helps to reduce the disruption for the public, bring projects in on time and save the council from additional costs.
The data also supports the operation of lane rental schemes, under which an authority can charge a company carrying out registered works in the street. These are subject to the approval of the secretary of state and require evidence including data on the performance of any existing schemes, which in turn can draw on the gazetteers.
The South East Permit Scheme has been operational in East Sussex for four years. It delivers clear benefits to all road users through the control of works across the network, and an important aspect is the identification and protection of traffic sensitive streets (TSS).
East Sussex Highways undertook its last review over 12 years ago. Traffic flows and congestion have changed dramatically during the last decade with the development housing, out of town retail centres and home shopping deliveries, to name but a few.
Whilst the designation of TSS does not prevent works, it helps to ensure improved regulation in the busiest areas of the network. Designations in many cases were no longer fit for purpose and an update was long overdue.
GeoPlace helped ESH to undertake a wide stakeholder consultation and TSS review, which had a positive outcome for the authority:
Local considerations for traffic control have now been properly recorded via the LSG.
The increase in TSS durations on key streets gives co-ordinators better control over traffic management for internal works as well as supporting external undertakers.
The introduction of further weekend restrictions provides for local traffic flows at retail parks and tourist spots.
The TSS network has been thoroughly researched and recorded by a team of local experts, providing coverage of the classified road network.
The review has enabled the extension of Early Notification ('dial before you dig') streets from around 30 to 357, allowing further control of work and information flows on the network.
Other valuable tools are either available or in the pipeline. GeoPlace already provides a service for locating authority Streetworks Registers, which provide up-to-date information on current activity, and it is contributing to the Department for Transport’s (DfT) plan to create the Street Manager digital service – currently under consultation – which will provide open data on live and planned works.
It was asked by the DfT to a undertake a discovery on the future use of Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), which facilitate restrictions on the road network that allow for temporary roadworks or permanent changes. They provide a significant element of local infrastructure and the research has led to a series of recommendations – including a review of the relevant legislation and more consistent formatting and use of language – to encourage their integration with digital systems.
TROs are an essential piece of national infrastructure data that need to be available in a nationally consistent format. During the discovery GeoPlace worked collaboratively with local authorities that have a statutory obligation to create TROs, and it is clear that they would value a review of legislation to increase the visibility of TRO information and reduce inconvenience to the public.
The research indicates that 400 authorities across Great Britain create 53,300 TRO and Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) annually to manage their road networks, at a projected cost of £126.4 million. Almost 90% of TTROs are attributed to streetworks.
The TRO Discovery Summary Report directly contributes to the Government's Future of Mobility Grand Challenge - which aims to make journeys in the UK greener, safer, easier and more reliable - by considering whether current legislation is fit to meet potential future technologies.
If adopted, the recommendations could lay the ground for developers to provide a new generation of navigational apps to provide drivers with long term warnings of planned disruptions, support the deployment of electric vehicle charging points and the increasing use of autonomous vehicles.
As new technology emerges there are going to be further uses for the data. The DfT has recently backed a project to use AI in reviewing high definition images to assess the state of the road network, and it has pledged nearly £350 million for councils to improve the quality of their roads. The national and local gazetteers, Streetworks Register and Street Manager will all feed into the decision-making process as these are implemented.
Local authorities should look to fully exploit these assets as it will make their own operations more efficient and contribute to national initiatives such as the roll out of full fibre broadband and the spread of vehicle charging points. And at GeoPlace we also urge them to play their part in maintaining the quality of the data by ensuring it is accurate and up-to-date.
It’s about using and improving the data so we can make better operational decisions. Local authorities and utilities carry out about 4 million street works in the UK every year, and the better planned they are the less disruption they will cause. Authorities can help to ensure the data supports better planning.
All of the case studies and reports mentioned are available on the GeoPlace website:
Contact Simon Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how local authority street data is supporting initiatives locally and nationally.
Image provided by GeoPlace LLP, Street in York