Highways code of practice – 3 ways to prepare

  • We are halfway through a two-year transitional period for the new highways code of practice
  • Local authorities’ preparations for the new risk-based approach to managing highways assets should be well advanced
  • We look at three areas to focus on as the transition phase draws to a close

It is now more than a year since the Department of Transport launched its revised code of practice for highways maintenance.

The new code, entitled Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure, came with a two-year transitional period, giving local authorities time to adopt the required risk-based approach to highways asset management.

We are now more than halfway through that transitional period, and from November 2018, previous highways codes of practice will cease to apply.

The highways funding challenge

In addition to developing a risk-based approach to managing their highways assets, local authorities also face unprecedented funding challenges. A recent Local Government Association report forecast that by 2019/2020, less than 6p in every pound will be spent on highways.

Preparing for the new code of practice therefore requires a careful juggling of resources, and a sound understanding of what constitutes a risk-based approach. Here, we discuss three areas for local authorities to focus on in the final stages of transition.

Competencies and training

The new code of practice makes it clear that local authorities should consider the “qualifications and practical experience training” of those responsible for highways asset management – for example City & Guilds courses or the IHE Professional Certificate in Winter Highway Maintenance.

Clive Speed, Regional Senior Claims Service Manager, Zurich Municipal, says: “We are beginning to see some claimants’ lawyers asking for evidence of the competencies of local authority highways inspectors. Historically, local authorities haven’t really had to contend with this, but now they are being asked to show what formal qualifications their employees hold.”

This is something local authorities will have to consider carefully when recruiting or training highways professionals.

Achieving consistency with other authorities

Highways sometimes cross more than one local authority area, and lawyers acting for personal injury claimants may seek to exploit differences in the way neighbouring councils approach the inspections and maintenance of such roads.

For example, if one local authority categorises a road as requiring inspections every six months, a personal injury lawyer may question why its neighbouring authority is only inspecting that same road, on its side of the boundary, once every 12 months.

“Many local authorities are now working collaboratively with their neighbours, in order to achieve some consistency in their approach to highways asset management, while continuing to recognise the nuances of their own road networks,” says Clive.

“The Tyne and Wear authorities, for example, are working together to agree a regional overarching strategy which will form the foundation of each authority’s own risk-based approach suited to its individual needs, but with a consistent methodology at its core.

“Similar work is being undertaken by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and by the London Boroughs, and these are good examples of the collaborative work that is going on out there.”

This News and Views article has more information about working collaboratively with neighbouring authorities.

Holistic approach to managing land assets

As courts become more familiar with the risk-based approach that local authorities are using to manage their highways assets, they may begin to question why authorities are not using the same methodology when managing other land assets, such as parks and open spaces, or cemeteries.

Clive says: “Courts may decide it doesn’t make sense for local authorities to apply a different methodology to the one they use when managing highways.

“Unfortunately, at the moment we rarely see local authorities take a consistent approach to managing their assets.

“Local authorities should look at the new risk-based approach as an opportunity to think holistically about how they manage all their land and open spaces.”

How Zurich Municipal can help

We have produced an online resource – A guide to Well-managed Highway Liability Risk – which includes sections devoted to different aspects of the new code of practice, as well as landmark legal case studies.

You can also find out more in our previous articles discussing the new code: