England’s bathing waters maintain high standards

The latest annual bathing water quality results published by the Office of National Statistics show that standards have remained high following last year’s record results which showed bathing waters were the cleanest since records began.

98.3 per cent of bathing waters tested at over 400 beaches and lakes up and down the country passed tough standards this year, following 98.5 per cent last year.

There have been huge strides made since the early 1990s, when just 28 per cent of bathing waters met the top water quality standards that were in force then; now 92 per cent are rated excellent or good.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

“We want all bathing waters to enjoy the high quality which the 146 million visitors to Britain’s beaches every year expect and we will keep working with partners to drive up standards.

Not only does our iconic coastline generate over £3.6 billion for the economy, it is a valuable part of our natural environment and we will uphold these bathing water standards as part of our plans to deliver a Green Brexit.”

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency added:

“Maintaining such high water quality standards at English beaches is a huge success and a credit to all those individuals and organisations working hard to keep our bathing waters clean. Water quality has improved significantly over the last two decades – but to protect and enhance water quality even further we will need everyone to take the small actions that will help.

“The Environment Agency continues to lead efforts to ensure bathing waters are maintained and improved further, working with partners and the public to reduce pollution.”

The results follow a summer of significant rainfall, which can cause high levels of agricultural run-off to pollute bathing waters.

Commenting on the results, Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of Water UK, said:

“These are great results under difficult circumstances. It shows the benefit of all the hard work and investment water companies put into improving our rivers and beaches, and is in very stark contrast to the situation 30 years ago when beaches were often riddled with sewage.”


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Traffic lights on Motorways!

Traffic lights are to be installed on one of the busiest motorway junctions in the UK in an attempt to reduce congestion.
The new scheme, being launched by Highways England, will trial next month at the junction of the M6 and M62 in Warrington, Cheshire.

Currently traffic lights are used to moderate traffic joining motorways from slip roads, but the plans will also place them on the link roads from the M6 onto the eastbound M62.

It comes after it was recently revealed that traffic on the roads in Britain has reached record highs.

“This is an opportunity to combine existing technology and traffic management systems in a novel way”

Andy Withington, Highways England’s programme delivery manager for the north-west

The new £7 million proposal will ideally slash commute time and frustration felt by motorists using these roads.

Alongside the new traffic lights system will be electronic information signs and variable mandatory speed limits on the M62.

Highways England says that these measures will “provide smoother traffic flows.”

Andy Withington, Highways England’s programme delivery manager for the north west, said: “This is an opportunity to combine existing technology and traffic management systems in a novel way to see whether we can give drivers using the frequently congested eastbound M62 lower journey times during peak hours and smoother, more reliable journeys.

“Once the system is fully up and running we’ll be monitoring its use over a period of up to a year.
“If it is successful – and we believe it will be – it could well be used on other motorway to motorway link roads across the country.”
If the trial is successful their could be a nationwide rollout to the busiest junctions on UK motorways.

Recently it was also announced that the speed limits for motorway roadworks would also be increasing from 50mph to 60mph, in another bid to reduce congestion.

“Once the system is fully up and running we’ll be monitoring its use over a period of up to a year. If it is successful – and we believe it will be – it could well be used on other motorway to motorway link roads across the country.”

“The key aim of the project is to test the novel technology introduced through this pilot project and tackle congestion at peak travel times, especially during the morning rush hour.

“The link road traffic lights won’t be on all of the time, being limited to the morning peak, but the variable speed limit signs on the M62 eastbound will be working all the time when traffic conditions dictate.

“Therefore, when the system is operating, drivers will be expected to obey the traffic lights on the link roads and variable mandatory speed limits displayed on the new M62 electronic signs.”

South West Water appoints specialist to tackle invasive non native species

South West Water is the first water company in the UK to appoint a dedicated Invasive Non Native Species Ecologist.

Kate Hills, who has worked for the company as an ecologist and environmental planner since 2008 but has had a long interest in invasive species, took up her new post this month.She also represents all water companies on the GB Non Native Species Secretariat England Working Group.

Invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and New Zealand pigmy weed are of interest to water companies because they have the potential to cause structural damage to water infrastructure including weirs and treatment works, choke waterways and disrupt native ecosystems. They also create health and safety issues for maintenance and recreation, particularly at reservoirs.

South West Water created the new post in response to growing threats from invasive species arriving from outside the UK.

Kate Hills said:

“Biosecurity is a huge challenge for the water industry. Here in the South West, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, America signal crayfish and zebra mussels among others have the potential to damage our environment or us if we don’t act to minimise their spread and impact.

“At the moment we believe other species such as the killer shrimp are not present in the region, but it is important that we stay ahead of the game and remain vigilant.”

The ecologist and South West Water’s Managing Director, Dr Stephen Bird, met Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner at a reception at the House of Lords last month to celebrate the work of the Check Clean Dry campaign, which aims to stop the spread of invasive species such as floating pennywort and water primrose. South West Water was the first of eight water companies to support the national initiative.

Lord Gardiner said:

“Invasive species threaten the survival of our country’s native plants and animals and cost the economy at least £1.8 billion a year. The Check, Clean, Dry campaign plays a key role in raising awareness of these threats; preventing new arrivals and stopping the spread of these species. It is great to see water companies supporting this programme to protect the future of our native species.”


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Well managed Highway Infrastructure: how’s the new code of practice progressing?

Ahead of her speaking role at ICE’s Transport Asset Management conference Lila Tachtsi looks at how well local authorities are getting on with the new code.

The end of October 2017 marked the halfway point for highways authorities to implement the new code of practice: ‘Well-managed Highway Infrastructure’. Its author, the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG), is currently carrying out a survey of local authorities to review progress with implementation and explore potential next steps.

The early findings of the survey will be presented at ICE Transport Asset Management conference on 21 November. In the meantime, it is a good time to reflect on progress.

The UKRLG has been publishing codes of practice for more than 20 years, supporting local authorities to plan the delivery of the highway service. The codes are not statutory documents but they have become de facto standards and are a relevant consideration in court cases.

The advice given in the codes is well embedded in the way highway asset owners across the UK plan and deliver all elements of highway maintenance. They have effectively become the safety net, protecting local authorities from legal action against them.

The new highways code of practice

Well-managed Highway Infrastructure was launched at last year’s ICE Transport Asset Management conference and consolidated into one document all the advice that previously focused on different asset types.

It built on the maturity of asset management and brought together multiple views through extensive consultation with stakeholders. More emphasis was given on network resilience, collaboration and innovation.

The biggest change in the new code was the focus on a risk based approach – a step change widely considered as a timely opportunity to revolutionise highways maintenance.

The advice is simple: local authorities should consider the risks of all decisions associated with the highway service, understand the potential consequences, consider affordability and adapt their policies accordingly to reflect local needs. In turn, the highway service will become more targeted, flexible and responsive to local communities. This helps to avoid ‘gold plateing,’ create budget efficiencies and protect against legal challenge through an evidence based approach.

Reaching a consensus to get to this point was not easy. Extensive stakeholder consultation came with its own challenges. At the early stages of the review of the code, the sector was split in two: almost everyone wanted a move away from the previous prescriptive approach but half of the consultees wanted a completely open risk based approach with the other half wanting some guidance on what could be suitable maintenance standards.

The UKRLG decided against giving examples of policies or ‘standards’ as experience had proven that any examples included in previous codes were automatically adopted as ‘standards’.

A decision was made to give local authorities two years from the publication of Well-managed Highway Infrastructure to review their policies, implement the new code and adopt the risk based approach. At the end of the two years the previous codes will be withdrawn and those authorities that have not made sufficient progress will be exposed to potential risks of adverse court decisions when challenged by the public.

Implementing the new code – where have we got to?

Has the sector taken the opportunity to redesign the highway service and realise the potential benefits of the risk based approach?

Early indications suggest that some local authorities are still to embrace the opportunity for change offered in the new code. Lack of resources or political support may be the reason for slow progress. But the current levels of revenue funding make traditional methods of routine maintenance unaffordable, so change is essential.

Have we, as a sector, taken the opportunity to embed technology in highway service, embracing real innovation and thinking outside the box?

Digital solutions can help us understand the needs of our customers, record the asset we own and manage, monitor asset performance and resilience, make the right investment decisions and optimise by modelling various scenarios, demonstrate impact of decisions and communicate with stakeholders.

We can do more to keep pace with technological developments and ensure that local authorities benefit from the digital world – armed with an improved ability to manage risks more effectively. Software solutions are an important component of digital asset management but the possibilities reach beyond this to an end-to-end asset management process.

The code of practice is a big achievement for the local highway maintenance sector. The result of great collaboration, it brings together years of experience in one place. It has given us the framework we need to deliver a highway service that meets local needs while supporting the national agenda.

Now, it is up to our sector to be bold in implementing Well-managed Highway Infrastructure, re-examine our policies and approach and manage highway infrastructure in a way that is effective, efficient and affordable.

Irish Water consults on first-ever National Water Resources Plan

Irish Water has launched a new consultation on plans to develop its first-ever National Water Resources Plan (NWRP) to secure a sustainable and reliable drinking water supply over the next 25 years.

The NWRP will outline how Irish Water intends to maintain the balance between supply from water sources around the country and demand for drinking water over the short, medium and long-term.

A number of elements will be undertaken in the development of the NWRP. Irish Water will consider availability of water by assessing water resources at a national level (including lakes, rivers and groundwater) and assessing the current and future water demand from homes, businesses, farms, and industry.

The water company will also consider the impacts on water supplies by identifying areas where there are current and potential water supply shortfalls by taking into account normal and extreme weather conditions. This will include considering the impacts of climate change on Ireland’s water resources and the development of a Drought Plan recommending measures to be taken before and during drought events.

When the potential shortfalls have been identified the utility will also assess the options for meeting them. Finally, the NWRP will develop a plan that sets out how Irish Water manages the waste material produced as a result of treating drinking water.

As part of preparing the NWRP, Irish Water needs to undertake some key environmental reports including a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA). The public consultation has been launched to inform the development of these reports.

Commenting on the NWRP, Mary McMahon, Acting Water Resource Strategy Specialist with Irish Water said:

“We are currently developing the draft plan with a view to publishing the final 25-year National Water Resources Plan in 2018. A national plan will ensure the best use of water resources to ensure a constant supply of safe clean drinking water and how best to meet any challenges while continuing to support social and economic growth.”

All submissions made on the SEA Scoping Report will be reviewed and relevant feedback incorporated into the environmental reports. Irish Water will then refer to the environmental reports when preparing the Draft National Water Resources Plan. In summer of 2018, the draft NWRP will go on display for an eight-week statutory public consultation, before being reviewed and finalised later that year.

After that, Irish Water will undertake a review and update of the NWRP every five years at least to ensure that the latest available information is factored in. Deadline to submit comments and feedback on the SEA Scoping Report is Friday 22 December 2017.


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