UK highways projects fell by 12% in 2020 during Covid pandemic

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According to a new report –  Digging up Britain 2021 – there was a 12% reduction in the amount of digging work that took place on the UK’s highways last year. 2020 was a unique year given the challenges and uncertainty that came with the pandemic. While much excavation work continued, many firms shifted into preparation mode. As a result, almost 1 million projects have been added to the pipeline. These, together with the large-scale infrastructure projects planned to kickstart the economy, mean the UK is heading for surge in highway digging activity.

The report, published by Linesearch before U dig (LSBUD), reveals that there were 369,138 searches through its portal relating to highways projects in 2020. This represents a decrease of 52,324 from the previous year. This bucks the trend in terms of the overall picture, as total searches through the collaborative portal were up by 9% with a record 3,078,670 enquiries, representing 77% of all digging work taking place in the UK. As such it provides a powerful and accurate barometer for the type of excavation work being undertaken.

In the case of the highways sector, the Digging up Britain 2021 report shows that there were 138,429 searches for street furniture projects and 62,814 relating to resurfacing, a 12% decrease. Another decline was in linear projects cross country; these accounted for 36,020 searches, a decrease of 31% on the year before.

“Digging on the UK’s highways has historically seen a significant year-on-year rise, but last year, we saw a noticeable decline,” comments Richard Broome, managing director at LSBUD. “This is largely due to COVID-19 restrictions and the impact the pandemic had on all non-essential work, especially in early 2020. As restrictions continue to ease, and with the Government looking to boost the UK economy through major infrastructure spending, we expect highways projects to feature prominently again in the next iteration of the report.”

Digging up Britain 2021 not only analyses the volumes but also the nature of the digging work taking place. It reports that within the 3.1 million searches made last year, 904,120 were performed under the ‘initial enquiry’ category, making up a significant 29% of all requests. In fact, this search type was up by 235,334 on the previous year alone – a 35% increase.

“What this shows is that during the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, there was a transition from active projects into preparation mode, likely in a bid to adapt to uncertain times,” Richards explains. “This year, having been planned accordingly, highways projects are back up and running, full steam ahead. The important thing to bear in mind is that more digging can mean more danger. Hitting an underground pipe or cable is a serious health and safety threat and it can be incredibly disruptive. So, with a surge in digging activity predicted, we urge everyone involved in road and highways projects to keep the momentum up and check for underground assets – every time.”

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Lauren is acting associate editor for Traffic Technology International and freelance journalist. Over the past 15 years, she has worked on a wide variety of B2B publications and websites, including a stint as deputy editor of Traffic Technology International from 2014-2016. She has a degree in English from the University of Exeter. Lauren is mum two busy little girls. She is always in demand!