The road ahead: Getting investment right for our highways networks from 2020

24/04/2018

Our strategic roads - our motorways and major A-roads - are our transport arteries. They are key to keeping people and goods circulating about the country, ensuring that our economy and UK plc stays in good health.

Since most of these roads were built in the second half of the 20th century, traffic volumes have grown enormously. Investment, especially on the local road network, has not kept pace.

Highways England was created in 2015 as stewards of the strategic road network (SRN) and a Road Investment Strategy (RIS) was introduced that set out a long-term approach to improve the network, with the strategy reviewed and updated every five years.

RIS2 is upon us – with one major change

As the end of the initial 2015 - 2020 investment period draws closer, the Government has been consulting on its plans for the next Road Investment Strategy, RIS2. This strategy contains a number of new proposals, but is different to its predecessor in one crucial way: the network will be funded from the National Roads Fund, resourced by the Vehicle Excise Duty paid by motorists in England.

This is an example of a hypothecated tax, which is something I have long argued for as a mechanism to ensure properly allocated funding. Up until this point our road network has been our most important transport asset – but also a major liability. In effect, hypothecated taxation transforms it into an asset with a value.

In a separate consultation, the Government has also proposed the introduction of a Major Roads Network (MRN), complementing the strategic network, that will see other major A-roads eligible for new funding.

Sensible proposals but could be better

These are all welcome measures. They are themes that we support, as a major contractor operating in the sector. The first investment strategy saw billions of pounds of investment come into the network and companies such as Amey created scores of new jobs, apprenticeships and opportunities for small businesses across the country. This is all good news.

With fresh investment due to arrive via RIS2, there are opportunities again for companies such as ours to make a difference to road assets as well the local communities we serve. But could that investment be even more wisely allocated?

Although a focus on strategic roads is understandable given how central they are to the overall highways network, analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed earlier this year that, based on the Government’s current plans, strategic roads will receive 52 times the level of investment per mile by 2020, compared to local roads. That is a staggering discrepancy.

There is the real possibility that under-funded local roads will prevent RIS2 achieving growth and customer outcomes, we believe, because all SRN journeys are affected by the performance of the local network. The fundamental problem is that to join and leave the strategic road network, you do so on local roads.

Enhancements should not trump maintenance

Admittedly, the current MRN proposals do go some way to addressing this issue. They invite local authorities to apply for funding for capital works on major roads on their networks. But we think that a greater proportion of monies collected through the National Roads Fund could be channelled to these roads – and also cover some maintenance spend, not just enhancements. An immaculately maintained strategic road network alongside a mesh of crumbling local roads is not a coherent highways strategy.

Those of us working in the highways sector would do well to remember that people travelling in their vehicles from A to B really don’t care how each road on their journey has been categorised. It doesn’t matter if it’s a strategic or local road; it is the overall journey experience that counts.

Collaboration will be key to success

For the MRN concept to succeed there will have to be greater collaboration. The proposal requires closer regional ties with neighbouring authorities, sub-national transport boards and local enterprise partnerships. This is of course possible but it does involve recalibrating mindsets.

The maintenance backlog on the local road network is well known. The LGA said earlier this year that the cost of the repairs backlog for council maintained roads could rise to £14bn by around 2019 – more than three times councils’ entire annual revenue spending on highways and transport. It added that the average English authority faces an estimated one-off cost of £69m to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition.

The additional funding provided through the MRN mechanism, in its current proposed form, where only capital works are eligible, does not address maintenance. In fact, the additional money made available through it has the potential to increase the backlog if new roads are built. This proposal needs further examination, as we all know the immense pressure on local authorities to address potholes and other maintenance issues.

We applaud the analysis – but would urge further thinking

We’ve spent a great deal of time exploring the new proposals in both the Government’s consultations. We applaud Highways England and the DfT for their thorough analysis of the state of the highways network and how improvements could be made. We agree with their main themes and the focus on the importance of operations and maintenance above all else.

But there is also space – and indeed, we would argue, a need – for fresh measures that help ensure all our roads stay in the good condition, delivering the benefits for the country and our economy that we all know they provide.

Highways jobs

Service Manager – Network Management

Somerset County Council
£46,122 per annum
A number of exciting permanent opportunities have arisen to drive forward further improvements to our traffic related services. Somerset
Recuriter: Somerset County Council

Principal Traffic Control Engineer

Somerset County Council
£33,799 to £37,849 per annum
A number of exciting permanent opportunities have arisen to drive forward further improvements to our traffic related services. Somerset
Recuriter: Somerset County Council

Assistant Engineer

Bedford Borough Council
£31,371 - £32,878 per annum
Bedford is growing at a fast pace and we are investing heavily in our highways infrastructure. Bedford, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Senior Clerk of Works

Bedford Borough Council
£27,905 - £30,507 + market rate supplement £2,630 per annum
Bedford is growing at a fast pace and we are investing heavily in our highways infrastructure. Bedford, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Senior Technician

Bedford Borough Council
£27,905 - £30,507 per annum
Bedford is growing at a fast pace and we are investing heavily in our highways infrastructure. Bedford, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Engineering Technician

Bedford Borough Council
£24,313 - £26,999 per annum
Bedford is growing at a fast pace and we are investing heavily in our highways infrastructure. Bedford, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Engineer – Multiple disciplines

Bedford Borough Council
£33,799 - £36,876 per annum
Bedford is growing at a fast pace and we are investing heavily in our highways infrastructure.  Bedford, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Trainee Engineering Technician

Bedford Borough Council
£21,589 - £23,836 per annum
Bedford is growing at a fast pace and we are investing heavily in our highways infrastructure. Bedford, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Senior Asset Engineer

Isle of Man Government
£47,064 - £54,805
The Isle of Man is a special place to live and work! Isle of Man (GB) (IM)
Recuriter: Isle of Man Government

Commercial Services Officer - Funerals

Brent Council
£33,291 - £35,724 p.a. inc. plus Standby Allowance
The post will be involved in all aspects of the funeral service Brent, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Transportation Planning Officer x2

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
Band F, SCP 26-31 (£29,636 – £33,799 per annum) (£15.36 - £17.52 per hour)
The post holders will be part of a team developing transport policy encompassing all modes of travel Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Highway Asset Engineer

Lambeth Council
£38,403 pa rising in annual increments to £41,466 pa incl LW
Lambeth is a vibrant place with a diverse population and an exciting cultural scene. Lambeth, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Lambeth Council

Senior Traffic Engineer

East Riding of Yorkshire Council
£32.029 - £34.788 career grade
We need an enthusiastic and experienced traffic engineer to manage our Traffic Team. East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Senior Community Infrastructure Levy Administration Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£32,643 - £44,373
The successful candidate will play a key role in ensuring Richmond and Wandsworth Councils mitigate the... London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Engineer (Structures and Tunnel)

Medway Council
£31,385 - £37,053
Exciting opportunity has arisen to work within the highways department in Medway Council... Rochester, Kent
Recuriter: Medway Council

Principal Information and Monitoring Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£40,183-£47,274 (Grade PO5)
Opportunity has arisen within the Spatial and Transport Planning service for a team leader with demonstrable practical experience of... London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Senior Community Infrastructure Levy Administration Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£32,643-£44,373 (Linked Grade PO2- PO4)
There has never been a more challenging – or rewarding – time to work for Richmond and Wandsworth.  London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Senior Engineer – Highways Development Service (HDS)

North Yorkshire County Council
£38,813 - £42,683 pa
We are looking for someone to join the Development Management Team in a new post. Northallerton, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Senior Development Management Engineer – Section 38

Warwickshire County Council
£37,849 - £39,782
Due to the nature of the role the ability to travel effectively throughout Warwickshire is essential. Warwick, Warwickshire
Recuriter: Warwickshire County Council

Partnerships & Activities Manager

London Borough of Bexley
£31,353 - £36,876
Currently seeking an experienced manager to work in the Parks and Open Spaces Team of Bexley Council’s Communities Department. Bexley (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Bexley

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Zero carbon roads?

Modelling the future

A breath of fresh air

View the latest issue

Latest Video