Agenda item

Highways Green Initiatives and Innovations

Report to follow.


4.1       Kath Haworth, Assistant Director for Highways & Infrastructure, was invited to present the report. The following points were highlighted.

4.2       The paper outlined a range of green initiatives and innovations which were being developed across the highways industry. The team recognised the importance of the support they had received so far to test these new initiatives, accepting not all would be successful but it was important to try. The report was split into four main sections as outlined below.

4.3       Digital and technology was partly about using data and digital techniques to better inform what the department did and how they did it. For example, a heat defect map could be used to identify heavy pockets of activity arising on the network to help direct resources and identify patterns. It was also about what can and could be captured automatically, in real-time and shared with the public for better self-help and transparency. There was rapid development happening in this area, with some areas on the cusp of providing real opportunities.

4.4       The materials and waste section outlined opportunities to use lower carbon materials, improve efficiencies, and better recycle what came out of the network as well as using recycled and recyclable products. Materials currently used for surfacing took a huge amount of energy to produce, largely due to the high temperatures needed. There were opportunities to explore different materials for use in different weather conditions which could reduce the need for return journeys to refill potholes.

4.5       There was a lot of ‘green estate’ on the network, and this came with opportunities to promote and improve the natural environment through biodiversity. An example was given that as a result of the current Ash Die Back programme, which was removing diseased trees off the network, some areas had flourished with new species establishing themselves in areas where Ash Die Back had previously been dominant.

4.6       The section on plant and operations was around the rollout of electric vehicles and optimisation of equipment. There was a recent trial of an ‘all electric’ site, officers were working through the outcome details, but all initial soundings seemed positive. The technology continued to improve on battery life and discussions around the future of HGVs.

4.7       Members of the Committee welcomed this report and thanked the team for all their hard work in continuing to trial innovations.

4.8       A member shared several other opportunities that may want to be explored, particularly in relation to camera and video footage developments to detect things like potholes, and GPS technology to detect deviations in the road surface and monitor bridges etc. Noting the connections with cyber technology in Cheltenham, there could be opportunities for Gloucestershire to become a leading example in some of these areas.

4.9       Officers welcomed the comments and were happy to continue discussions offline on particular opportunities. They had begun to trial the use of video systems in highways vehicles but shared that the Artificial Intelligence capture was not quite as good as a human yet in terms of judgement and automation.

4.10    It was added that when this technology matured, there would be opportunities to improve the monitoring of unclassified roads, which were typically only inspected once a year. This technology could be fitted in other fleet vehicles which drove the roads more frequently.

4.11    A member shared that they had heard complaints from crews about the lack of equipment available to heat materials on the fleet vehicles. It was advised that the method of repairing potholes was to use hot materials which were taken from depots on the day and kept on insulated beds. GCC were also working with contractors to trial cold products, these were generally more expensive but, in some instances, have a better whole life cost. The member was asked to share the details of this particular issue with officers offline.

4.12    Officers felt that the biggest gain they could see at the moment was the technology, to develop a more joined up and automated system, and make better use of the data that was available in doing so. This would then eventually lead to officers having more time to deal with the more complex queries and issues, rather than focusing solely on the day to day. A comment was noted about raising better awareness of the positive trials being undertaken.

4.13    A member shared the ongoing public frustration where potholes in close proximity to each other were not all being filled at the same time. It was agreed that technology such as the heat mapping would help, as well as exploring optimisation of route inspections and ensuring crews were located in a tight geographical area, and not needing to travel back and forth across the county.

ACTION:       Kath Haworth – confirm what happens to the chipped woodfrom the Ash Dieback Programme.

ACTION:       Kath Haworth – confirm how much plastic waste from PPE was recycled or incinerated.

ACTION:       Kath Haworth – provide further information on Solid Recovered Fuel (paragraph 3.5)

4.14    Reference was made to a previous Task Group report which recommended the Council to explore the use of cut and collect operations when cutting road verges in order to help improve biodiversity. Officers confirmed this was trialled a few years back and at the time, the equipment was too big to make it viable to use across most verges in the county. It would be something the team would keep an eye on for advances and hopefully more suitable equipment to become available in the future.


4.15    A member referred to the ongoing success of alternative transport trial ‘The Robin’ and queried the reporting mechanism for this to Government. It was explained that as it was being funded by Government, there was regular feedback already happening. It was currently a 2-year trial, but discussions were already happening on how to bring some of the learning forward, due to its current success and challenges for the county in rural accessibility but also around Stagecoach cuts. Officers hoped to be able to share a summary update with members soon.

4.16    Another example was discussed of where the equipment/technology had not quite advanced enough at this stage. Highways trialled the use of a machine which could heat the existing materials in and around a pothole, redistribute it and then add a smaller amount to make up the quantity. This was a really good way to recycle and reuse material and use a lot less new material overall. It was however a very big piece of equipment and was therefore not suitable for all locations as it would lead to programme efficiency issues.

4.17    Noting all the excellent examples of initiatives being explored, a member questioned whether the Council had an idea of the measurable impact the various changes could have on its carbon footprint. It was advised that the department were currently pulling together a Carbon Management Plan in order to understand the impact of any potential future change, and also to ensure that if initiatives needed to be prioritised for financial or resource reasons, the Council was moving forward with the ones that would make the most difference.

4.18    It was advised that drones were hired through specialist suppliers and used mostly to do things such as bridge inspections that were otherwise difficult and expensive to access. This was a good example of camera technology making a huge improvement in certain areas and would hopefully start to be used more.

4.19    A member raised this issue of misunderstanding among residents, and sometimes councillors, of what met the council’s pothole threshold. They requested information around the number of visits that were carried out across the county each year that ended with the criteria not being met. It was felt that there were clearly efficiencies that could be made here, and whether the Council was clear enough with its messaging on this.

ACTION:       Kath Haworth

ACTION:       Kath Haworth/DSU – Arrange a members visit to see new IT used by highways department.


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