Prevention rather than cure: Our perspectives on AMP8

Jeff Birtwhistle pens a piece on AMP8.

It seems like only yesterday I began working on Asset Management Plan 6 – so just how is it that we already find ourselves planning for AMP8?

Time has flown since those first meetings about AMP6 – no doubt because the past six or so years have kept us incredibly busy and been filled with new challenges for everyone involved in the water industry. In that time, we’ve seen huge change – innovation and new technology has helped the industry become precise in its work, more effective and more targeted in its approach, yet demands on our ageing wastewater network are greater than ever as our population increases, new homes are built, and infrastructure needs change.

AMP8 is set to be the largest investment programme that many of the UK’s water companies have ever undertaken. It comes at a time when the water industry is under intense scrutiny and as the cost-of-living continues its chokehold on the UK. Economic forecasts suggest the coming years will see inflation and interest rates rise, so the squeeze will continue to be felt – and it’s essential our sector does all it can to make sure funding is spent wisely and to best effect.

Cappagh Browne has been working hand in hand with water companies and our supply chain to help them bring about real, positive change since 2008, through sharing knowledge, adopting new ways of working and introducing cuttingedge technology to achieve better results, often in less time. Driving true collaboration to get the job done effectively and efficiently – whether that’s through forward planning to replace or maintain failing pipelines, or helping customers when responding to an emergency, such as a burst pipe – has been central to AMP7 works and will remain so as we transition to AMP8.

Getting on the front foot

The route map for success now surely hinges on prevention rather than cure – ironic, you might say, for a man whose company benefits from carrying out repairs. Some key elements to this approach are set out below.

1. Contribute to net zero

Climate change affects the water industry at every turn – from drought to pollution. Over the past five years, we’ve seen almost every weather record broken in the UK: last year, England experienced its driest ever winter, the mercury hit 40°C for the first time and parts of the south-east experienced more than half a month’s rainfall in one night leading to flash flooding and widespread disruption. With extreme weather events expected to be the rule rather than the exception in the run-up to 2030, it’s incumbent upon all of us to do more to prevent further temperature rises to reach net zero targets.

At Cappagh Browne we use no-dig solutions as much as possible to minimise the impact on the built environment, reduce vehicle movements by using multi-equipped/functional vehicles as we transition to electric vehicles, and are carrying out a trial using solar power at our sites to cut carbon emissions.

2. Minimise disruption

We also know that the misconnections and infiltration into the degrading, ageing wastewater network – along with significantly increased urban development – causes the networks to become overwhelmed even in minor rainfall events.

Our work means we see everything – we’ve seen how problems with wastewater pipes can devastate residents and businesses; we understand the frustration people feel being stuck in traffic; and we know how disruptive it can be for residents when their road is closed for works to take place.

So, when we talk about pipes and sewers, and prevention rather than cure, we’re actually talking about people – and how we put them at the heart of everything we do, especially our most vulnerable customers. We need to plan for them; to make sure we do everything possible to minimise disruption in the communities where we work and ensure they receive a first-class service.

Partnership working between client and contractor means we can collectively investigate, invest in and share new technology that can pinpoint potential issues in our network before they become problematic, such as cameras and monitors that we use in sewers to inform us of trouble spots or potential difficulties.

3. Embrace digital

The move to digitisation and digitalisation notably the use of AI, must be adopted at pace – this is beneficial across all areas: preventing accidents, cutting the amount of time spent investigating issues and working on site, helping customers by better tracking incidents, mapping our network and allowing us to proactively react to emerging issues before customers become affected.

A proactive maintenance model and asset knowledge-based approach across the network with data drive and risk-based decisions would require substantial investment but would reduce the amount of reactive work needed in the long-term.

4. Skill up

Investment in infrastructure will count for nothing unless our sector invests in the leaders of the future – it’s vital we do more to promote STEM subjects at school, offer attractive employment opportunities, and training and skills through apprenticeships and graduate programmes. That’s essential if we’re to encourage and nurture a more diverse workforce to water, which – even though it is slowly changing – is still predominantly filled with white men of a particular age.

To ensure the success of AMP8, collaboration is key across the entire supply chain. We must find collaborative, innovative and imaginative ways to help water companies achieve their targets and ensure we put customers and communities first.

Cappagh Browne Managing Director Jeff Birtwhistle wrote this piece for The Water Report’s July – August 2023 issue, accessible here