We spoke to David Button, Area Highway Engineer at Wiltshire Council for South West Wiltshire, a great location which, according to David, showcases the diversity of the county. David is one of three Area Highway Engineers in the southern team and commented that his colleagues have experience from different backgrounds which complements service delivery nicely.
David told us his role really is varied and no two days are the same; he oversees everything from potholes to technical designs offering solutions which prevent roads collapsing. He must take into consideration cost, quality, resources and expertise.
He is also responsible, with his colleagues, for identifying and lobbying for major maintenance projects which occur because of environmental changes. In addition to the tasks related to highway maintenance he enforces legislation and policy and grants licences but also takes the often-difficult decision of instructing that inappropriate developments such as property encroachments on the highway are removed if they contravene legislation.
David has worked for the local authority for 31 years. He originally joined the Army as an Officer cadet but damaged his knee which caused him to take a different path. David joined Robert Hobbs Quarries Ltd in a technical role within their materials laboratory until he was head hunted in 1986 by what is now Wiltshire Council as the county’s assistant materials engineer.
David moved to Highways in 1995 as assistant to the trunk road manager north and later the south; the local authority was at the time the management agency responsible for capital works on and maintaining the county’s trunk roads: A303, A36, A420, A419 and the M4 motorway. David was the last member of staff to work on these projects in Wiltshire before responsibility transferred to what is now Highways England. In 2002 David was appointed as an Area Highways Engineer when the Wiltshire Highways Partnership: a partnership of the Council, the Consultant Mouchel Parkman and the Contractor Ringway was formed.
David became an Engineer based on accumulated knowledge, experience and an ability to get the job done rather than taking a traditional university based route into the industry. He completed a Diploma in Highways Materials through Doncaster Metropolitan Institute of Mining and Quarrying and over the years has undertaken over 50 professional courses.
Having to respond swiftly and often on the spot and be accountable for those decisions is one of the key differences between David’s role as an Engineer and the technicians that work alongside him. Each Area Board has a Community Area Transport Group which David attends in SW Wiltshire regularly, as a requirement of his role. This can involve addressing an audience of between 20 to 70 people; highways can be a contentious and challenging environment to work in given the impact on the public, residents and the local area.
David likes to pass on his wealth of knowledge and experience and finds it satisfying to see people grow and learn. He has written and delivered three training modules relating to the inspection of new roads on housing developments to over 30 technical staff and managers, which is something he is particularly proud of.
After a career spanning more than three decades in local authority it is pleasing to hear that David enjoys his job. As with many local authorities, reductions in budget and resources including manpower have impacted on service provision and delivery, this means that engineers like David work hard to ensure everyone’s needs are met in the most suitable way and to the best available outcome.
Wiltshire Council became a unitary authority in 2009, which saw many co-ordinator roles rebrand to technician roles. David believes this paved the way for many staff particularly women to advance within the highways sector; many of whom have gone on to have successful careers at a local and national level.