Cheshire West and Chester Council is a unitary authority with borough status in the county of Cheshire and was established in April 2009 as part of local government reorganisation. It superseded the boroughs of Ellesmere Port and Neston, Vale Royal and the City of Chester; its council assumed the functions and responsibilities of the former Cheshire County Council within its area.
The Council is committed to implementing a Best Practice Asset Management approach to its highways network that supports the successful delivery of its overall vision of ‘Helping the Borough Thrive’. There is 2,280 kilometres of carriageway and 2,648 kilometres of footway, including all the associated assets such as street lighting, bridges, structures, and drainage, making the network by far the most valuable corporate asset – valued in excess of £5 billion. In order to realise the optimum value to users of this network and as the highways authority, it is crucial that it provides a professional, well-informed, intelligent, and forward- looking approach to how it manages and operates the highway.
As a result, the Council has set out the following principles:
- The highways service is delivery and customer-focused
- It has a whole of lifecycle approach
- Informed decision making
- To be responsible and accountable
- Consistent with national and local government policies and priorities
- Building resilience to climate change and environmental challenges
Its strategic asset management objectives are:
- Providing a high level of customer satisfaction with its approach to managing its highway network
- Ensuring we provide a responsive service and effective works delivery
- Committing to delivering better value for money through improved asset management
- Strengthening our highways asset management capability
Cheshire West and Chester has completed many condition surveys in the past but have had challenges interpreting the different types of surveys to provide consistency. Andy Bithell, Network Management Commissioner, Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “Comparing SCANNER data with other surveys was very challenging and was giving us different conclusions, meaning we were never completely sure of the real condition of the complete network; we soon realised that we needed a higher level of detail and accuracy.” Added to this, the Council also allocated resource on a detailed DVI survey.
“But we were still struggling to draw comparisons across the varying survey types,” Mr Bithell added. “What we were looking for mainly was a consistent approach to our surveys so we could then start to build an accurate picture of what we needed to prioritise and target over the next few years.”
The Council looked at the approach taken by other authorities including Blackpool BC and Lancashire CC. The Council regularly received complaints regarding the condition of the footways and cycleways.
“We realised quite quickly that we needed to find a way of looking at the whole network, particularly footways and cycleways as a key component of the network, in a more holistic and detailed way before we could really apply our asset management principles,” said Mr Bithell.
Gaist had already been working with Lancashire and Blackpool who also had the RAMS Framework which is open for any other local authority to make use of.
Mr Bithell continued: “We spent some considerable time reviewing the approach taken by other authorities. Following the end of our own technical surveys framework we were looking for an innovative solution to our problem, we are also very aware that we didn’t want to re-invent something that already been done. After reviewing all of the options and working with Blackpool and the LCRIG group the RAMS Framework seemed the most innovative and cost-effective way of procuring what we needed.”
The Council started working with Gaist and liked the idea of a condition survey that was repeatable but featured a high level of detail.
“We began to realise that this level of detail combined with other data sets could help create more information on an individual street which could then inform investment decisions and support our holistic approach,” added Mr Bithell.
In 2019, Gaist surveyed the entire network including footways which is the first time the Council has had this data for the whole network.
Mr Bithell explained: “After processing the first-years’ data we were able to obtain polygons that break down the network into individual schemes which provided detailed total network coverage that we were looking for. This meant we were able to integrate that with other data sets such as pothole/defect history are or accident claims data, for example.
“Gaist broke down the data into three different categories enabling the team to plan a series of reactive works in reasonably sized programs that were connected in some similar way from the data. This enabled us to be more efficient and effective in the way we planned and delivered our works and also to make more accurate decisions on whether it should be reactive or preventative treatments.”
Now, the Council is able to have a three to five year programme of works that includes every single road and footway identified by the different type of work and setting our clear priorities.
“Because we are surveying every road, if one road deteriorates quicker than expected we can easily change the plan accordingly,” said Mr Bithell. “This, in turn, has meant that the highways service is able to provide evidence to members and communities on investment decisions.
“Having data like this has meant we can now provide a robust evidenced based case for applying for funding in the future. It helps us plan and act more strategically.”
Mr Bithell is now so confident in the data he has received; he has sent all of the condition data to the DfT to form part of its overall assessment of the UK network.
“With suggestions that the funding process is moving away from reactive to support more innovative ways of working, we feel we are in a strong position,“ he said.
Gaist is also helping Cheshire West and Chester with its lifecycle plans and VideoView has helped identify some issues straight away of where there are signs of failing, even with sites that have recently been completed.
Having data like this has meant we can now provide a robust evidenced based case for applying for funding in the future. It helps us plan and act more strategically. "