Leigh is the UK and Ireland Lead for Environmental Services within SYSTRA, with responsibility for developing and managing a wide-ranging environmental services function across the business. Core areas include environment management and assessment, sustainability and climate change, landscape, planning and consents, ecology, water resources, and specialist services such as noise and vibration, air quality, and geo-environmental services. Leigh and his team act as an enabling function for the business across transportation infrastructure, for example, railways, highways, and energy from waste.
Leading and managing teams is a passion of Leigh’s, and he notes that being people oriented and instilling a culture of mentoring and coaching has brought in fantastic leadership which the company are now complementing with high potential junior resource in each of the core disciplines. A real success is that of referral and recommendation across all disciplines, showing that people follow the right leadership and attitude, something he is very proud of across the whole team. SYSTRA has recruited 34 new hires and counting during lockdown, and therefore a recent challenge has been driving the right culture within the organisation without teams mixing physically. Leigh notes that the adaptability of the team and inclusivity of everyone in terms of making sure integration is at the core of the organisation has been humbling to witness, converting challenges into positive outcomes. Another recent challenge has been in relation to addressing the climate emergency, with the wide-reaching team playing a large part in developing SYSTRA’s strategy for sustainable development and supporting the wider business to deliver innovative and environmentally sound design solutions in the transportation sector.
Between 2007 and 2010, Leigh led a key piece of innovative applied research consultancy examining the fate and mobility of contaminants in the unsaturated zone for the then Highways Agency. This involved conducting a comprehensive literature review; designing ground investigations to recover undisturbed cores, sediments and surface waters within drainage systems; designing and procuring a laboratory and designing laboratory experiments (batch sorption); and examining the behaviour (leachability, degradation, or immobilisation) of highway contaminants in the unsaturated zone, paying particular attention to trace metals (copper, zinc, arsenic, and cadmium) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (fluoranthene, pyrene and naphthalene). The aim was to further the understanding of the contaminant pathways to underlying aquifer resources associated with the strategic road network in the UK, considering upper and middle chalk, lower greensand and oolitic limestone geologies. The role required regular site survey management for contaminated land ground investigations, supervising drilling teams to deliver on site excellence with special projects including the retrieval of undisturbed cores via rotary drilling (Comacchio Rig), window sampling (Premier Rig), handheld automatic ballast sampling, and block sampling via trial pits. The interpretive report served as an evidence base to the recently updated DMRB Guidance for Road Drainage and the Water Environment standard LA113 released in 2019.
Following a degree in Environmental Monitoring, a PG Cert in Research Methods in Science and establishing a firm passion for research, the opportunity arose to undertake a PhD which was a wonderful and very challenging experience. Leigh was self-taught throughout and learnt a whole raft of field, laboratory, data management, and interpretation skills in the areas of plant biotechnology and environmental bio-geo-chemistry. Successful completion led to a role with AECOM (Scott Wilson at the time), which allowed Leigh to build a laboratory for Highways England Research and use it to undertake environmental forensics (treatability) works for Network Rail and industrial clients, and work within the landfill infrastructure construction sector. With a real feel for highways, the next few roles with Jacobs (CH2M at the time) and Kier Highways honed Leigh’s multidisciplinary technical and project management skills associated with highway improvement schemes on varying scales and complexity, moving into junior and then middle management. In January 2020, Leigh moved to SYSTRA, traditionally a well-respected rail engineering business, and he is now forging a new Environmental Services division with a team of 50+ specialists by the end of 2020 and continued organic growth planned into 2021 and beyond. His role at SYSTRA allows him to lead and drive forward a ‘signature’ team to deliver on the enabling requirements of the design teams within SYSTRA UK and Group.
In the future, Leigh hopes to establish technical excellence and leadership for ‘Environmental Services’ with the Exec Board, on the back of being recognised as a significant player to SYSTRA’s success and profitability in the medium to long term. In terms of his personal development, he aims to look at opportunities for additional chartership in due course to keep his CPD aligned to his career progression, and continue pursuing applied research opportunities where his passion lies.
Leigh became a Full Member of the IES in 2007, achieved Chartered Scientist status in 2011, and was granted Fellowship by the Institution in early 2021, a great milestone in his career. He was attracted to the organisation by the diversity of disciplines covered and the core values of the institution.