Under New Management – The NWSRG and its Practical Guide

Under New Management - the NWSRG and its Practical Guide

The National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) has been restructured and is starting a review process of its national guidance – the Practical Guide. With the support of Cold Comfort, which will host a gap analysis debate on the current chapters, the steering group and its associate members are setting a new course in climate resilience. Dominic Browne reports

With a new structure and business plan, the NWSRG has been through a period of change over the last year. The reforms are designed primarily to secure more funding from the Government for general administration and research projects – as it is now free of any financial support from industry. At a time when digital technology in the form of telematics and the Internet of Things is starting to drive new developments in the sector, the NWSRG is removing the barriers to its own capacity for innovation.  Membership is free to both highway and road authority members and the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which comprises consultants, contractors, manufacturers and suppliers. These industry associates used to pay £500 or so a year to support the NWSRG, and now only have to dedicate their time and expertise. 

The NWSRG recently launched its business plan for 2004-2008, which spells out the changes. The internal governance is structured into four sub-groups, each with their own roles and responsibilities: the Executive Group, Steering Group, Members Group and the TAG. 

The Steering Group is still made up of a maximum of 12 elected figures drawn from the membership, who provide the overall strategy for the association. Sitting above that is the Executive Group, which provides a management and secretarial role. This is chaired by Carol Valentine, head of business services, highways and transportation at Kent County Council, and vice chair Iain McDonald, network resilience manager at Transport Scotland. All these changes have been approved by the UK Roads Board. Ms Valentine says: ‘One of the reasons we changed is that we felt there needs to be an independence between the steering group and the commercial organisations. We [previously] had them pay for the group so clearly they could have had a level of influence. We wanted to separate them – so as local authorities and national authorities, we can do what we want in terms of the best interest of our members. 

‘Financial security is another one. The reality is we don’t need a lot of money to support the NWSRG. So we wanted to be able to have a way of getting money into the organisation so we could do the research that we like. So we have developed a new business plan. We also wanted membership to be free to increase our numbers. We want as many local authorities, private companies and national authorities to be a part of this.’ 

Funding is the one area that is not yet nailed down. The NWSRG business plan states that it is ‘currently working with the DfT to secure long-term funding to keep membership free for all and progress research and updates to our practical guidance suite’.

It will also work with the devolved administrations, national road operators and the TAG to see how they might ‘contribute to funding and/or facilitation of research projects’. 

Under this new structure, the association has set about throwing itself into two main strands of future work. The first is a review of the Practical Guide. 

Ms Valentine says: ‘The guide can make your authority more effective and more efficient through elements such as spread rates and calibration. Also, if you’ve applied the guidance it can help to deal with any claims. With the best will in the world, we will get claims from time to time. It is also free to use. But of course, once you prepare a document, the world keeps moving and you have to review it to make sure it is up to date. So one of our key jobs will be to do a review of all of the sections of the guide.’

Highways’ own Cold Comfort conferences are helping support this work. Cold Comfort Scotland on 18 April in Falkirk will host the first gap analysis panel debate to discuss what key elements might be missing (or need updating) from the guide. With Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government and a host of key contractors in attendance this will be the first public forum to review the issue. 

Another key plan for the future is to make a long-awaited return to the field of research, which will initially focus on a number of areas. Ms Valentine says: ‘One of the things we want to look at is the emerging data services. We are looking at desktop studies, working with the industry to find out what difference it is making. So if you want to take up some of this technology, you can learn from what’s already been done. 

‘Then there are the wider environmental impacts of winter service and the issue of climate change. We all know that the highway is probably one of the biggest contributors to carbon. So we want to see how we can reduce that in the work that we’re doing. 

‘Also, we’re all aware of the active travel agenda. If you have to do more winter service on active travel routes, what’s the best way to do that?’ 

There is also the ambition to do a deskbased study ‘to determine the feasibility of dynamic routing’ and a multi-year network trial on residual salt ‘to definitively determine treatment characteristics in terms of performance, distribution and longevity in all weather conditions and traffic volumes’. 

Ms Valentine concludes: ‘We’re up for change. We want change. We welcome it. We really invite the sector to let us know if you have any ideas and if you want to get involved. It’s absolutely free to become a member and together we can make the change you need for the future – to improve and make sure we’re doing the best in the service that we can.’ 

With the support of the DfT, Cold Comfort, and an energised membership, the NWSRG is about to heat up the winter debate. 

Article courtesy of Highways Magazine


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