A senior figure at the Department for Transport has refused to rule out the use of competitive bidding when it comes to local or regional funding allocations around the proposed major road network (MRN).
The MRN, which would sit between local and strategic roads, forms part of the Government’s Transport Investment Strategy and would reap a share of the annual National Road Fund, funded by Vehicle Excise Duty.
It is understood that funding for the MRN could be worth between £1bn-£1.5bn a year, which would be given to local authorities to improve or replace their most important A roads under their management.
Some in the sector have started to call it a ‘£1bn for bypasses’ fund. When asked for a guarantee that local areas would not have to bid for the cash, Tricia Hayes, director general for roads, motoring and devolution in the DfT, told Highways she could not.
A senior source close to the process said it was very likely there would be competitive bidding for the MRN cash. ‘From her response you can see that is probably the way they are going to go.’
A consultation is due shortly on the MRN and how its network would be defined.
It was originally conceived in a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund report by David Quarmby and Phil Carey, which used an equation based on traffic and the type of traffic on roads as a proxy for economic importance and connectivity to establish a basis for which roads should be included.
The issue is likely to cause some heated debate between the DfT and sub-national transport bodies, which have their own ideas over what the networks should look like.
Questioned by Highways, Ms Hayes said: ‘The network definition question is one where we think a largely principles-driven approach is the right thing – given the important hub the MRN has to be so as to be a driver of resource allocation and strategic economic powerhouses.
‘I don’t think we can take each region’s vision of its own network and pull them together in some kind of national map. Having said that, I think we are humble enough to recognise that there may be special cases. What we are anticipating is a network that starts being defined by principles like those set out in Rees Jeffreys Road Fund report – how it is used what kind of journeys it supports – then gives a little bit of flexibility around the edges where that principles based approach spits out a network that is just not sensible.’
She added: I think you will see when you see the consultation, STBs are absolutely at the heart of how we expect to roll out decision-making around the MRN.
‘The purpose of the MRN is to identify the strategically important roads and many of them function at regional level. STBs can help us understand what is a sensible order to tackle problems in.
‘I am not saying we are going to guarantee and accept what every regional body says about what their priorities should be. With Transport for the North we are having a very lively conversation about the work it has done on its own MRN. But it has a really important role to ensure the planning is sensible and the regional needs are clearly identified.’
Peter Molyneaux, strategic road network director at Transport for the North (TfN), said: ‘The North has worked closely together for the last nine months and has agreed an MRN for the region that’s the right size and shape for the North to meet its economic growth ambitions. We are looking forward to working with DfT and other STBs when the MRN consultation comes out [expected] by the end of the year.’
He also revealed that TfN hopes to have its own strategic transport plan out by the end of the year.
‘In terms of TfN’s strategic transport plan, we are looking forward to launching it by the end of the year and consulting on it. It will bring together road and rail for integrated smart travel and that will support our freight and international connectivity, which will see the north open for business not just to the country but to the rest of the world.’