AGENDA: Putting Birmingham on the Roads to Recovery; Birmingham's Highways Infrastructure Is in a State but the Answer Is at Hand, Argues Birmingham Street Services PFI Bid Director Phil Jackson
Byline: Phil Jackson
The city centre traffic flows easily and without delay over roads which are well-surfaced and free of potholes. There are no road repair works causing unnecessary delays on journeys to work and home.
Pedestrians can walk in safety on well made footpaths.
The street scene is clean, tidy and uncluttered, broken only by the green of well-kept verges and trees.
At night, the street lighting - using new technology to minimise light pollution - is effective and fully operational. Wouldn't it be nice if I'd just described Birmingham?
Sadly I haven't and most of the city's residents and commuters will have a very different picture of the state of Birmingham's roads and footpaths. What I actually described in that first paragraph was Portsmouth.
Portsmouth is in the fourth year of its 25-year highways maintenance PFI contract and the change in that city has been nothing short of dramatic.
Portsmouth's drivers and pedestrians are reaping the benefits of its success.
Portsmouth's was the first highways management and street scene project in the whole of the UK to be procured through a Private Finance Initiative programme, with a private company assuming responsibility for all aspects of highways management and maintenance.
Birmingham City Council has also chosen the PFI route for the maintenance and management of its 1,500 miles or road and street lighting infrastructure, in what will be the largest local authority highways PFI project in the country, worth pounds 2.2 billion.
This allows the local authority to get the best value while achieving the major cash injection it needs to carry out badly needed highway structural work and maintain the city's highways and street lighting to the highest standards.
Going the PFI route for Birmingham City Council means that pounds 588 million of PFI credits are released by the Government to carry out badly needed work and catch up on the backlog.
So the potential is there for major improvements in the city's infrastructure.
It will change the appearance of every street in the city, and there's no reason why the highways utopia I described in the first paragraph shouldn't be appropriate to Birmingham.
Birmingham is down to two final bidders and the preferred bidder for the contract will be announced later this year.
Certainly PFI has transformed Portsmouth. Their pioneering pounds 500 million scheme quickly caught up with a considerable backlog in maintenance, halted the decline in standards of the city's roads and opened the way for major rehabilitation of the infrastructure, and high standards of maintenance for the future.
The leader of Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson is in no doubt that PFI was the right way to go. He is delighted with the way Portsmouth's road management and maintenance processes have been revolutionised, and with the "one stop shop" for all aspects of the street scene including street lights, signage, bridge repairs and tackling pot-holes.
"Core investment works have been undertaken in every area of the city.
In the first six months of the contract eight miles of roads were resurfaced, 13 miles of pavements renewed and 702 lamp columns replaced, greatly easing the fear of crime in some areas," he said.
Councillor Vernon-Jackson added: "The bottom line is the very positive reaction that we've had to the speed, efficiency and quality of the investment works. They've noticed a big difference. Portsmouth's vision has led to a greatly improved service for everyone who works, lives in or visits the city. …