A key industry figure has warned the next government not to cut back on ‘vital’ maintenance and renewals for the strategic road network (SRN).
The £25.3bn second Road Investment Strategy (RIS 2), which sets out how Highways England will manage and improve the SRN from 2020 to 2025, has yet to be published by the Department for Transport (DfT).
Before next month’s election was agreed Elliot Shaw, Highways England’s executive director of strategy and planning, told MPs: ‘We hope and expect that publication is fairly imminent. From our perspective, we need a new RIS in place by the start of the next road period, which is April next year.’
However, RIS2 will not now be published until after the election, allowing a new government to review it.
Speaking at an industry event, Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation and a former DfT director, said: ‘While politically the focus is so often on enhancements – on big ticket schemes, Lower Thames Crossing, Stonehenge tunnel, stewardship of the network is vitally important. The quality of the network, the reliability of the network is vitally important.
‘Even if the next government, once again, decides that it wants to be the greenest government ever and perhaps scale back on enhancements, I do hope that they don’t scale back on maintenance, which is so vital.’
He added: ‘We’ve all seen the rise in concern about the environment, about climate change in particular, about CO2. We know that traffic is a particular contributor to CO2 and tailpipe emissions. We’ve got over 30 million cars on the road in this country, the vast majority of which are fossil-fuelled.
‘So I do think there’s a risk that a new government - potentially could be a coalition, I suspect it wouldn’t be a Green Party government but it could well be a coalition with a particular environmental slant – could come in and at the very least pause and want to have a think about how much they are prepared to commission over the next five years.
‘And my plea to them would be for everything apart from the enhancement programme, could we not have the certainty for that? Because we are not about to start closing roads down, I don’t think; we are not about to stop needing the network, which is absolutely mission critical for our freight and logistics industry.
‘So I hope that the new government will form quickly and will say: this is a good framework, let’s crack on.’
The Stonehenge Tunnel and the roads for the Lower Thames Crossing, which will cost billions of pounds, are in fact outside RIS2 and currently unfunded.