As featured in the June edition of Highways Magazine
This year, highway maintenance and civil engineering contractor JPCS is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Managing director Peter Shone speaks to Alec Peachey
How did you start out in the highways industry? What type of jobs have you held before becoming managing director?
I have been in the highways industry for a total of 27 years, with 20 years at JPCS. I started out in the industry at the age of 18 working as a labourer on pavement repairs with a gang as part of an apprenticeship with a local company. Then I moved on to become a surfacing operative.
From my experience working on the ground, I realised the products and systems used were out-dated and very limited. I spotted an opportunity to develop new methods and a higher level of service and started to introduce these whilst moving up the ranks of the company, eventually heading up a footway operation.
I really wanted to transform footway surfacing from a rather ‘scruffy’ industry, into something much more high profile and in 1993, when I was 25, I decided to start a new business – JPCS.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry?
The ‘more for less’ culture – tight budgets and a focus on value, as well as end users wanting the best quality with the least disruption, can pose some challenges for contractors.
Projects in the infrastructure sector are under high pressure to complete on budget but also within the shortest time period possible. People don’t want road improvements taking place for weeks on end and local authorities don’t want to have to deal with complaints from the public when infrastructure projects cause disruption to the road network.
On the other hand, economic pressures mean contractors now have to squeeze every penny out of the contract – without compromising on quality and delivery. This creates a challenge for the supply chain to provide a reduction in long term costs without compromising quality.
Innovation is the answer. For instance, our years of experience in the highways maintenance sector made us realise a more cost effective solution was needed for pothole repairs, which lead to the development of Rejuvopatch.
Rejuvopatch provides a cost effective and sustainable method of carrying out a wide range of repairs to defects within bituminous bound surfaces. The Rejuvopatch material is a hand laid, cold applied microasphalt patch repair material made up of modified bitumen emulsion, blended aggregates, and specific reinforcement materials, suitable as a permanent patching or surface treatment product. Rejuvopatch has been used across the UK for several years now, with great success.
How has the highways industry changed and how has your company adapted to these changes?
The industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, with legislation, customer expectations and developments in products and services. The relationship between local authorities and the supply chain has also changed over the years, and a new approach to how contracts are managed is needed to ensure the most cost-effective solutions.
We work collaboratively with clients with a focus on integrating the specialist supply chain. This has ensured an improved understanding of programmes, priorities and strategic objectives, with all parties working to the same goal. Collaboration helps with programme scheduling, reduced lifecycle costs and quality control but also creates a platform for both suppliers and clients to deliver the highest standards and continually improve working practices.
As a specialist contractor, we’ve also been flexible to adapt to the changing needs of our stakeholders. This has included engaging with clients to develop new products to address specific local issues (such as our carriageway patching product, Rejuvopatch), diversifying to provide integrated services (such as our in-house traffic management services), and developing innovative solutions to deliver best value (such as our footway recycling and our new hybrid vehicle for traffic management and vehicle restraint systems).
With the success of our products and services in highways, we have also diversified into the rail and energy markets, where we deliver a range of services from rail platform surfacing to ground mounted solar PV.
What are some of the products you have developed for the highways industry?
JPCS has been sustaining local communities with durable road and footway surface treatments since 1993, saving millions in unnecessary reconstruction. Since the very beginning, we have worked with our clients to develop improved methods and turn commodity products into engineered solutions and delivering added value is even more important with the current economic climate.
We pioneered the development of slurry seal and footway microasphalt, including Rejuvoptach, a permanent carriageway patching or surface treatment product, which is one of our most successful products within the industry. We have also introduced the innovative Groundscrew to the UK market, a sustainable, concrete-free alternative to traditional foundations for signage and other infrastructure projects.
More recently, working in partnership with Dudley Borough Council, we have developed an innovative recycling solution for footways, which is now being rolled out across other areas of the UK. As well as products, we have invested in purpose built plant, and working with our operatives, we invented the footway mixer which is now used throughout the industry.
What type of projects do you carry out within the highways sector?
Since day one, we have been maintaining the highways and byways of the UK, working on a wide range of projects, from specialist cold-laid microasphalt footway surfacing to innovative recycling, traffic management and vehicle restraint systems on motorways, and installing signs across the road networks, from speed indication devices right up to motorway signs.
In our 20 years we have covered more than 10,000 miles of footways, installed over 5,000 signs, and improved the footways outside one million homes.
Who are your biggest clients in this sector?
In the highways sector, we work with a number of local authorities, including Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, Sandwell Borough Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Leeds City Council. We also work with larger contractors such as Eurovia/Ringway, Amey, Balfour Beatty and Bam Nuttall, recently embarking in joint ventures and partnering arrangements to deliver work on footway contracts.
What are your views on the UK’s road network? What are the main things that need to be done to address the state of the country’s roads?
Driving on our roads without hitting a pothole is impossible these days! Well maintained roads are a vital part of our economy and the UK’s road network is in need of serious attention. As well as shrinking maintenance budgets, the pothole ‘epidemic’ has been intensified by a series of harsh winters damaging our roads and footpaths. Public perception, morale and trust have gone into a downward spiral, with compensation claims to local authorities rising fast as a result of neglected or poorly maintained roads.
Never has collaboration between the client and contractor – and throughout the supply chain – been as important. Authorities need to embrace the expertise specialist contractors offer, by asking ‘this is the problem, how can we fix it?’ as well as trialling and evaluating products to develop the best solutions for each site.
Is the roads network now paying for years of under investment?
The number of potholes being filled is rising every year, an indication of the current level of road deterioration. Under investment has had a significant part to play, particularly in recent years. The effects of harsh weather have accelerated this deterioration, leaving authorities struggling to catch up with what was already a vicious circle.
Not only is the investment not enough, it is not always spent correctly, or regarded with a long term view. Local authorities should be looking for the best efficiencies over the entire lifecycle of the product when tendering for highways services.
Is there anything that can be done as a short term fix on the roads, or should we be looking beyond that?
Common quick fix repairs, such as filling and ‘panic patching’ are temporary and are not providing an effective, long term solution. There are times, of course, when patching is inevitable, but instead of prescribing repairs from a desktop, products and services need to be bespoke and engineered for that specific pothole or defect, tailored to each site, and right first time – it should not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Yet the key to long term success and to reducing long term costs is a focus on appropriate, planned preventative approaches to road maintenance. One of the most successful preventative approaches is waterproofing, especially after the impact our past winters have had. Water and frost are two of the most damaging conditions, accelerating deterioration on our roads. Waterproofing will decrease deterioration and prevent water ingress, particularly in the most vulnerable areas of the highways network, in particular oxidising and oxidised areas.
A preventative waterproofing programme could save authorities thousands of pounds each year, not to mention reducing disruption on the roads and associated costs, and improving public perception.
What are your predictions and plans for the future of highways?
I see a very bright future for highways over the next few years, with innovation playing a big part in driving improvements and delivering real value for money. Sustainability of products and services will play a larger role more and more in the long term, both in terms of environmental credentials and lifecycle.
I believe the industry will adapt and become more lean and driving efficiencies will be high on the agenda for all, in order to respond to economic, environmental and social changes. This is much needed in highways, whilst some practices are very efficient, there is still complacency in some areas and we can take a lot of learnings from other industries to enable us to improve and thrive.
With this change in focus, dependability on the expertise of specialist contractors will become greater, and commercial performance and reliability will really be what counts. Larger contractors need to embrace the experience and knowledge of specialist contractors, and welcome the cost-efficiencies and flexibility these businesses can provide.
Our future plans in the highways industry are to become an integrated, adaptable and sustainable business. We want to be the ‘no-threat’ contractor of choice in both specialist and non specialist areas. And we want to continue to invest in diversity and deliver innovation in products and services, nurturing long term relationships with all our clients. As we grow, we will always keep a ’small company’ culture, staying true to our values.
A little bit of advice for other highways contractors would be to listen to employees and stakeholders, engaging with the people you come into contact with.
We have worked around one million homes since we were established in 1993, which has helped us to understand peoples’ needs, adapt and develop new products and services that deliver real value. This goes back to my earliest experiences working with a gang on site; if you stand on the road wearing a yellow jacket people will come out of their homes and give you the sort of end-user feedback that money can’t buy.
Equally, listening to clients and providing appropriate solutions, not one size fits all, is a foundation for success. This is what we do, day in, day out, with great outcomes.
Look at it as an investment – for example, our footway recycling and microasphalts. These innovative solutions were born out of listening to clients and the gangs working on site and developed to address specific client needs. They have been really successful, rolled out in other areas and taken up by new clients.
And for clients, a lot has changed over the past 20 years. Now more than ever, choosing a reliable contractor, to ensure safe delivery, a quality finish, lean efficiencies and innovation, should be right on top of the agenda.