Making street works, less work


Fibre leadership

Making street works, less work

Joe Flynn, Head of Street Works, CityFibre

24 November 2022

Joe Flynn

Getting street works approved is no small part of the challenge when you’re building fibre infrastructure from scratch across entire communities. If permissions aren’t in place at the right time, things can easily grind to a halt, and that’s no good for our partners, or the citizens that await the fast, reliable internet connections we’re on a mission to deliver.

Everyone in every corner of the country deserves an internet connection they can rely on.

It’s this kind of thinking that led us to building a new, nationwide fibre network. Start from scratch, do it right this time. Of course, doing right by the communities you’re building for is a little more complicated than just switching something on. It’s about working closely with local councils, highways authorities and build partners, minimising the disruption of construction work and getting homes and businesses enjoying the benefits of better connectivity sooner rather than later.

Getting down to the dig

Our secret to an efficient, smooth infrastructure rollout is a combination of fresh thinking, meticulous planning and listening to people – with a big emphasis on that last bit. Since each place we build is so different, we make very few assumptions and instead work as closely as we can with the people who know the area best.

One example of this is the ‘joint‑survey’, an approach we first took with Lincolnshire County Council and are now implementing elsewhere. Our own surveyors accompany the council’s highways inspector on a tour of the build area, which gives us the opportunity to discuss local knowledge of permit conditions, traffic management, embargos, required reinstatement standards, and ways we might speed up the permit process. It’s an ongoing dialogue that’s resulted in significantly reduced disruption for road users, residents and businesses, minimised waste and quicker provision of our services.

What the joint-survey exemplifies is the importance of engaging with all Street Works stakeholders so we can learn from their collective experience, collaborate on shaping best practices and keep refining our approach. At the local level of each build project, this means maintaining our close relationships with local councils and highway inspectors so we can stay tuned into their particular requirements and priorities. To identify potential problems and find workarounds, we also run local highways engagement sessions between city managers and the CityFibre build partners who do the physical construction to our exacting standards.

At a national level we’re looking beyond our industry for the learning opportunities and collaborations that could set us apart. Working closely with the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has helped us identify ways to roll out fibre faster. The Joint Authorities Group, which represents the interests of every Highway and Road Authority in the UK, have attended our rollout workshops and provided invaluable input, as have senior executives from Street Works UK and the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee.

Comfortable with unpredictability

The beauty of all this close engagement is how it can inspire innovative thinking. Within our own company we encourage people to share their ideas so that we can stay agile as a group and keep improving. And when it comes to hiring, we’re always on the lookout for those individuals that understand that problem solving is as much to do with a diversity of input as it might be individual lateral thinking. With all the unknowns and unpredictability that comes with infrastructure building, we’ve learned that you can never have too many eyes, ears, and open minds on a given situation or challenge. We relish working in this way because it delivers such great results.

Our growing group of Street Work Advisors are very much a product of this culture. With many of our new recruits having either been highways inspectors or compliance managers for local councils, it’s a team bristling with expertise on build-permit applications and with an extensive joint knowledge of the UK’s New Roads and Street Works Act (1991). Together, they’ve helped to streamline permit-processing, meaning our build partners don’t need to waste the time and resources of local authorities by submitting permits that need to be clarified and then resubmitted. By having this dedicated and expert team to hand, we’re able to build close, mutually beneficial working relationships with councils. What those councils want is reliable, meaningful and long-term information about our fibre build programmes, which we can give to them. Equipped with this knowledge, they can better co-ordinate and sequence street works undertaken by different companies.

A further example of how our progressive thinking is helping us minimise disruption for people and the environment is the tireless work we’ve done to drive improvements to Openreach’s Physical Infrastructure Access product. Wherever it’s available and viable in our chosen locations, we build using PIA. And these days, it’s enabling us to avoid digging altogether a great deal of the time.

Looking ahead, we’re keen to see the introduction of a more flexible permit. A flexi-permit would enable us to apply to undertake street works for a much wider area. It would significantly reduce admin between us and the council, help us manage disruption better and in turn would improve the efficiency and speed of our build. Flexi-permitting has been trialled and we are now supporting the case for it to become the norm.

Whatever the circumstances or challenges of our network construction, local authorities can be assured that we will always strive for the highest quality standards – from signing, lighting, and guarding through to reinstatement – so that the need for re-work is rare. Our compliance knowledge, coupled with our Street Works Advisors working alongside local highway inspectors, builds a much-needed trust with councils. It’s these relationships between actual people on the ground, the talking to each other and the working together that’s making our vision of a ‘network for all’ a working reality.

Explore more about how CityFibre is building a new network for the data age.