As the focal point for the road surface maintenance industry, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) is a key voice in the road industry.
Its challenges range from training and increasing professionalism in the industry, to advising local authorities on how to get best value for money.
Howard Robinson is the Chief Executive and after 30 years in the roads sector, is a respected authority.
Transport Britain spoke to Howard about the work of RSTA, the work it does to stretch the lifecycle of our roads, and the challenges faced by the sector in light of funding, skills shortages and Brexit.
This is an excerpt of the full interview with Howard Robinson which will appear in our next Transport Britain publication.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your journey to RSTA and the work you do?
Before I joined in 2009, I worked for a number of large material supply companies like Tarmac, Wimpey and a bitumen company called Nynas – all are very well known suppliers in the road sector.
I joined the RSTA in 2009 as the Chief Executive to raise the profile of the sector really. What we mainly do here is work with all the major highway authorities like Highways England, the local authority bodies like ADEPT, who try and raise standards by developing specifications and guidance documents.
We cover a range of surface treatments but only two of them actually have a Standard, so one of the things we’ve been working hard on is to try and backfill that and make sure they’ve got specifications and Standards in place for all the surface treatments.
The reason we’re doing that is because it’s then easy for local authorities to specify their use. If something is proprietary, some of the risk lies with the local authority, whereas if they specify a Standard product, the risk lies mainly with the contractor or the materials supplier.
We also train between 300-400 highway authority and contracting people a year through our CPD programmes to try and ensure people know what is available in terms of the road surface maintenance techniques, where to use them and how to ensure the job gets done correctly first time.
Does the RSTA have members as well as working with stakeholders?
Yes, we are a trade body that represents the road maintenance industry. I use the word road carefully, because it’s roads, not highways. The latter incorporates bridges, street lighting etc, whereas we deal principally with the road.
We also deal mainly with the top parts of the road – the surface course, as we call it. But we have got members who provide techniques for also getting involved in recycling roads and dealing with problems lower in the road pavement.
We call roads ‘pavements’, which is the technical term.
We’ve got 86 organisations as members. We don’t have individual members and those organisations range from local authorities – we have about 13 of these in England, Scotland and Wales – specialist contractors, which totals 40, and we have 30+ members who are manufacturers, or provide aggregates, bitumen and special binders.
We’re a very broad church and span the whole supply chain from material supplies, straight through to the client.
In terms of the work you do on the roads, what do you feel are the biggest challenges you face?
The biggest challenge currently is funding, or lack of it. To put it into context, there are two networks: the local road network and the strategic road network.
Highways England manage the strategic road network, which comprises 3% of the road surface length of the UK. Highways England have a £15 billion budget over five years and have a clear plan to be regulated by the ORR, have an investment strategy sanctioned by government, so the strategic road network is well managed. There’s a clear plan, money available. The local road network hasn’t.
The local network is split between 157 local authorities, all vary in shape, size and resources, and because of the ongoing pressures the authorities are under with funding, the budgets for road maintenance aren’t protected each year. Therefore, the amount of money available goes down each year, though some authorities put a bit more in.
Even the amount allocated isn’t always spent on roads because it can be filtered off into other worthy causes such as social housing.
Funding is the biggest issue. The replacement cost of the local road network is £235 billion and that’s been published by the DfT. As a nation, all those local authorities combined spend about £3 billion a year maintaining the local road network, so if you divide 3 by 235, you can see they’re not spending a lot.
It’s also an ageing network so we’re spending the 1% each year on replacing an ageing road network. It’s nowhere near enough and that’s why you see these problems with potholes and people understandably complaining.
The rest of the interview with Howard Robinson can be found in the next Transport Britain publication.