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Addressing the technological divide

NSG Exemplar Award Winner – Most Effective NSG and Streetworks Integration 2009: Blackpool Council.

An early adopter of gazetteer data, Blackpool has placed the National Street Gazetteer (NSG) at the heart of a revolution in asset management. Fundamentally reprocessing the way data are collected, managed and accessed, the council is addressing the traditional divide between those who create and maintain data and those who require information for strategic decision making.

A comprehensive review of the asset management of all highways led to the development of a suite of innovative software. This was designed to support decision-making by capturing day to day changes in the council’s assets; to record and monitor service requests; and to communicate information, via the Internet, to be accessed by council staff, elected officials and citizens.

Although designed to publish the position of current and planned road works, the resulting online information portal has been rolled out to facilitate the management and display of a wide range of data. These include: road safety information, such as patrolled crossings, accident black spots and slippery surfaces; public service information, including road closures, diversions and flood locations; and asset information, such as width restrictions and low bridges. The unique feature of this system is that information can be posted in real time, from any location, using any Internet enabled device, subject to authorisation and system set up.

Blackpool Council, residents and local businesses are already achieving benefits from the dissemination of real time service information via the internet, and the council is now working with partner organisations, leading academic institutions and government organisations, to realise the wider potential of the system.

Outcomes

Residents and visitors to Blackpool can obtain information about the location, duration and impact of both current and planned maintenance and improvement projects in and around the popular seaside resort. Presented using a familiar web mapping interface, visitors can choose a backdrop of standard street mapping or aerial photography before selecting the information they wish to display and interact with. The information is updated in virtual real time and can be supplemented with safety information, service requests and the council’s asset register.

This effective application of the NSG / NLPG within a local street works system has led to the launch of a national street works portal. Launched in July 2009, Road Explorer UK is a free service which has the potential to save councils collectively millions of pounds as it replaces the need for the development and maintenance of individual commercial systems.

Perhaps the most significant feature of this system is the ability to allow real time streaming of highway related information beyond traditional internet accessing devices, specifically to in-car satellite navigation systems. This would provide drivers not only with up to the minute information on the location and impact of street work operations, but also with additional intelligence derived from council records, gazetteers and service reports.

The core principles and system architecture developed from the initial asset management system are now being migrated to other areas of the council’s business and to the wider community.

Key benefits

  • An interactive reporting mechanism that can be used to find out what is happening, and what is planned in the community. Users can also communicate with the council, requesting additional works, council intervention or investigation.
  • The replacement of manual, paper based systems for tracking public requests for traffic and highway schemes has resulted in dramatic increases in efficiency, with an estimated saving of £30,000 per annum in salaries alone.
  • Improved forward highways maintenance plans targeted at actual need, with additional prioritisation by social and economic worth, have resulted in approximately 10-20% less waste equivalent to £250,000 per annum.
  • Improved partnership working extending across Blackpool to the whole of North West region, across the North East and into the Yorkshire and Humber region. Additional collaboration with different types of organisations e.g. Highways Agency, industrial organisations, transport companies, utilities etc.
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