SCOTLAND IS seeking network managers to combine the tasks of operating and maintaining its trunk roads. The move follows lengthy consultation by the Scottish Executive on how to get best value from its highways network. The Highways Agency in England has just begun consultation on similar issues (NCE 6 January).
The Scottish Executive plans to re-parcel Scotland's trunk roads into four trunk road units - North East, North West, South East and South West. Each will be run by a single operator responsible for road management and maintenance.
It is significant that the Executive has decided to meld the white collar and blue collar sides of road maintenance. In its consultation document Paving the way, the Highways Agency outlines four possible models for the future shape of trunk road maintenance.
These include the model selected by the Scots alongside the possible use of privately financed 15 to 30 year road maintenance and operation concessions (NCE 6 January). The Scottish Executive has already looked at all these models and decided that private finance will not give best value.
The Scottish Executive's decision is the result of a four-year experiment which saw Scotland run two systems for trunk road maintenance at the same time.
In 1996 the Scottish Office split Scotland's trunk roads into three premium road network regions and created five regions responsible for all purpose trunk roads. The three premium road regions - Clyde, Forth and Tay - include motorways and major trunk roads. They were to be managed and maintained for five years by three groups made up of local authorities in each of the three areas.
At the same time, the country's all purpose trunk roads were split into five regional networks - South West, South East, North West, North East and Central. Responsibility for managing, but not maintaining, these were awarded to local authority consortia but this time only for three years. Local direct labour organisations in these areas retained responsibility for maintenance.
Clear problems about the way the local authorities managed the all purpose roads had emerged by the time the contracts ended last year. Insiders report that individual councils within each group were more interested in operating their own networks than ensuring the seamless maintenance of cross boundary trunk roads within a whole region.
The Executive re-let the all purpose roads contracts for two years in 1999 and two went to private companies. The Central region contract went to a Balfour Beatty/Mott MacDonald joint venture, while North East region went to Mouchel.
The Executive is much happier with the way the operate and maintain model has worked on the premium roads network. This explains why it plans to use this model for the whole network after the eight contracts to maintain or maintain and operate the network end on 31 March. Then, it plans to regroup the eight trial regions into four larger ones for greater efficiency.