On track with highway asset management

  • A Highways Asset Management Plan (HAMP) is a document outlining how local authorities will manage highways and associated assets
  • Having a clear and robust HAMP gives authorities a stronger defence in the case of a claim
  • We review what your plan should contain, what impact the incoming Code of Practice might have and what funding initiatives are currently available

With the introduction of the new code of practice in summer 2016, the start of the government’s incentive funding system, and an increased level of responsibility for local authorities, a robust asset management plan has never been more important.

What is highways asset management?

The Department for Transport (DfT) requires highway authorities in England to demonstrate asset management through a published Highway Asset Management Plan (HAMP).

The purpose behind asset management policies is to provide an organised and logical approach to maintenance, inspection and performance.

The Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA) defines three main processes to asset management:

  1. Assess the current condition of the asset
  2. Establish what level of service to achieve from each road. This will depend on road type and its level of use
  3. Devise an optimised plan to achieve objectives and maximise the asset value, using the most cost-effective method possible

The key aspect of an asset management approach is a focus on long-term stability. This might include setting targets, outlining strategy and/or forecasting results. The overall aim is that this approach will deliver a consistent level of service for the public.

Defending claims

HAMPs are a statutory requirement and are in the public domain, allowing the public the level of transparency they expect from a local authority.

Certain aspects of your HAMP are therefore open to question when settling a claim, particularly what you have chosen to classify as an actionable defect.

For example, if you were to classify an actionable defect as a pothole 20mm deep and a member of the public were to trip on a pothole 22mm deep, you may be challenged on why the pothole had not been fixed.

Such an event is a breach of Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 which states the duty to maintain highways at public expense.

The importance of a resilient plan

In response to this, an authority may be able to defend against the claim under Section 58. This is where a resilient HAMP becomes invaluable; in particular to prove: “whether the highway authority knew, or could reasonably have been expected to know, that the condition of the part of the highway to which the action relates was likely to cause danger to users of the highway.”

Providing the authority is able to evidence that they have followed set inspection and maintenance plans and not neglected their duty, the claim will be defensible. This would be the case if the defect had developed between two inspections, for example.

To this end authorities need to take care over what is classed as an actionable defect. The authority must also clearly evidence that inspections have taken place and outline any steps that have been taken to fix the problem.

Clive Speed, Regional Senior Claims Service Manager, Zurich Municipal, says: “A HAMP must be a clear and unambiguous document which mirrors what you are operationally capable of. A lack of resource or manpower is not a viable defence in the face of a claim.”

A year of change

2016 marks the first year that an authority’s HAMP will impact on how much funding it receives from the government.

As highlighted in our article How to get maximum highways funding, asset management forms the backbone of a self-assessment questionnaire, which determines the amount of “incentive funding” a local authority will receive from 2016 to 2021.

Highways authorities must score highly on their asset management to reach higher than the first band of scoring.

It is therefore paramount that local highway authorities work to develop or maintain their HAMP to demonstrate continued improvement to access the higher scoring bands and receive a greater portion of funding.

New code of practice

Summer 2016 is also the expected release date for the new Code of Practice – Well-managed Highway Infrastructure. The new “risk based approach” to highway management is designed to devolve more autonomy to local authorities.

This approach should drive efficiencies, as authorities are able to make informed decisions on how often to inspect their assets and can define actionable defects as appropriate within their HAMP.

The current concern is that this switch will make authorities more vulnerable to litigation as claims lawyers may challenge their decisions.

It is therefore of huge importance for an authority to be able to evidence all decisions made and be able to back up these decisions with data, for example, what is the average foot fall on the path in question?

Other important sources of evidence would include audit and governance trails and inspection paperwork.

Catherine Aislabie, Team Leader Casualty Team, Risk Engineering, Zurich Municipal, says: “We want to reassure local authorities that the incoming Code of Practice should not be a cause for concern. Nevertheless, this is the time to ensure that a strong asset management plan is in place, in order to preserve claims defensibility in the future.”

What should the plans include?

The UKRLG HMEP guide contains 14 key recommendations, from lifecycle planning to risk management, designed to provide steps towards a minimum level of asset management.

The guide also includes a set of clear objectives for each recommendation, case studies examples and further useful documents.

The guide provides a good basis to developing robust and successful HAMPs, but does not provide a prescriptive approach.