Examination of Witnesses (Questions 142-
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
142. Good afternoon. Would you be kind enough
to identify yourselves?
(Mr Matthews) Tim Matthews, Chief Executive
of the Highways Agency.
(Ms Chipping) I am Hilary Chipping, I am Director
of Network Strategy at the Highways Agency.
143. Mr Matthews, did you have something you
wanted to tell us before you began?
(Mr Matthews) Yes, a couple of points. I thought it
might be helpful to explain the different stages of the Highways
Agency's roles in multi-modal studies. They really fall into four
main areas: the inception and early research and development on
the study where we have been throughout an active participant
through the steering groups, in large part because many of the
schemes remitted to the multi-modal studies were ones on which
the agency had done work and had knowledge, so we were an important
contributor to the general development of the studies. Increasingly,
as the studies have progressed, we have taken on a second role
which is testing out in more detail the viability of schemes which
are emerging as front runners from the consultants' studies, indeed
we were given an explicit remit in agreement with government offices
earlier this year to do preparatory work on some proposed schemes
so that if ministers were so minded we could get ahead with implementation
more quickly. The third stage is when the regional planning bodies,
regional assemblies and government offices make their recommendations
to ministers. Then we have a role in relation to how study recommendations
which relate to an individual region or individual corridor sit
in relation to a national strategic view of priorities and needs
on the network. Lastly, once decisions are taken, where we are
so directed, then it is our job to get on ans implement those
144. You did say that many of the schemes in
the plans would not be completed by 2010. Why is that?
(Mr Matthews) The strategic plan of roads for 2010
was to achieve certain outcomes, primarily in terms of congestion
and safety targets. An indicative number of schemes was put forward
in the ten-year plan, particularly as far as the multi-modal studies
were concerned, the motorway widenings and the very large junction
improvements. Those were not targets, those were indicative schemes.
145. A nice difference.
(Mr Matthews) It is an important difference though
because the targets were in relation to what those schemes would
146. Yes, but they were fairly specific. We
are talking about 360 miles of widening of trunk roads and local
roads and building 100 new bypasses. We are talking about a very
considerable plan and we should like to know what you have to
say, both about the estimate for the completion time and why there
is a slippage.
(Mr Matthews) We have an incomplete picture at the
moment because we do not have ministerial decisions on any but
the first three. Our high level view from those studies where
decisions have been taken, but also looking at the recommendations
which are emerging, is that we shall be able to meet those indicative
targets in the ten-year plan within the ten-year period. That
is not to say that the multi-modal studies' recommendations only
cover the ten-year period. Schemes will be coming out of those
studies where implementation will go into further years. The issue
for us is whether we can deliver what the ten-year plan targeted
for us. Our high level view at the moment is that we can, yes.
147. The question which lies behind many of
the indicative objectives. What has been changed in terms of your
objectives and priorities since all these multi-modal schemes
have been undertaken? It seems to me that a lot of it has just
delayed things. If you go down the M6 to the West Midlands or
round London you know what the problems are. What has changed
after all these studies?
(Mr Matthews) The key change as far as the agency
is concerned is that we now have, certainly on the studies which
have been agreed and potentially from other studies which are
still at the recommendation stage, roads and a strategic road
network being planned and, where appropriate and possible, delivered
as part of an integrated package. When those schemes were remitted,
for a variety of reasons there clearly was not the willingness
or the need to go forward with those schemes in isolation. The
view at the time was that they needed to be looked at in a much
148. Forgive me, but that is all process, is
it not? It is getting some friends where you did not have friends
before. In terms of what it means for which road scheme where
roads need widening or you need a new road what has altered?
(Mr Matthews) You have to look study by study. Certainly
in each of the three studies on which we have ministerial decisions,
and in a sense that is the only firm ground which I can stand
on before those decisions are taken, you can identify in different
ways that there have been quite significant changes, both in terms
of the total package, but also the schemes from the Highways Agency
perspective which were remitted to the studies. Things have changed
as a result of the studies.
149. I accept that there is the remission or
delay. I should be really interested in which roads you now do
not intend to widen or build or what has changed because of these
studies. You can send us a note if you like.
(Mr Matthews) All that I can focus on at this stageand
I am happy to give a more detailed noteare the three studies
where decisions have been made. The other studies do not have
the status of a clear brief for us at this stage. On the first
study on which ministers took decisions, the study on access to
Hastings, there was a very clear ministerial decision not to proceed
with one of the major schemes which have been remitted, the bypass
for Hastings. We were asked and have been working since then on
other schemes which are focusing more on the radial access to
Hastings rather than the bypass. That is one example. There are
other examples, both in the other two studies where ministers
have made decisions and prospectively in some of those other studies.
For the other studies, it would probably be sensible to wait until
ministers have decided which schemes will go ahead and whether
and how far they differ from the remitted schemes.
150. May I develop that slightly further? Would
you accept that there is a relationship between demand by traffic
for road space and whether or not you charge for the use of that
(Mr Matthews) Yes, there is a strong economic case
151. How then can you take a decision to widen
roads if you have not taken a decision on whether that extra road
space is going to be charged for?
(Mr Matthews) It is not a decision for me and the
Highways Agency. It is a decision for ministers. Their position
on road user charging generally has been very clear. From our
perspective, it is important to bear in mind firstly that road
user charging is not the only measure of demand management which
is available in managing the strategic roads.
152. I accept that but the point is if it is
for some time in the future and you are building capacity, would
it not make sense to make a decision on whether or not you are
going to charge before you build that road?
(Mr Matthews) It depends entirely case by case on
the sensitivity of a particular level of congestion or road development.
153. I accept that but is it not irrational
to leave the decision for eight years before a decision is made
once you are taking decisions to build the roads?
(Mr Matthews) No. I do not think there is any intention
to delay the decisions on the strategic road network for eight
years. The point I was going on to develop is that there is an
issue not just of how sensitive the schemes themselves are to
the impact of charging, but the timescale over which that is relevant.
Our view at this stage is that ministers will be in a position
on the basis of the studies to make decisions on motorway widening
without coming at this stage, as they have said they do not wish
to, to a firm decision on road user charging.
154. Would they not be different schemes though?
Would you not plan the schemes differently if charging were going
to be part of the scheme?
(Mr Matthews) This does come back to the issue of
how both volume and time sensitive charging is to any particular
scheme. Yes, if there are schemes where there would be a very
immediate impact, I am sure ministers would weigh that in how
and whether they judge to go forward with the scheme. Our assessment
at the moment is that on most of the recommendations which are
coming forward for widening, that is not an immediate issue which
will undermine judgements about how you widen the motorways. The
cases for them will stand up.
155. I am sorry if I missed something in what
you were saying, but my understanding is that the impact of charging
is to reduce traffic and the capacities then that you would be
planning for on a road network would be altered if it were the
intention to charge on that road. At the outset there must be
a policy decision as to whether it is your intention to charge
(Mr Matthews) Ministers have made very clear that
they are not going to make decisions on these multi-modal studies
predicated on the introduction of road user charging. We will
be advising ministers and they will be making decisions which
are robust decisions without road user charging being within the
ten-year plan period.
156. Do you know at what point you will reach
a pipeline or steady state flow of projects? Clearly what the
industry wants, the civil engineers want, is predictable workload.
(Mr Matthews) I cannot give you a precise time, but
we are very conscious, both in terms of advising ministers about
decisions and timescales for implementing decisions and also in
the way in which we have been consulting both the contracting
and the consulting industry about how we manage the programme,
that we need as smooth a flow of schemes as possible. An important
part of that has been a consultation exercise which we have had
with the industry over the last few months on how we might package
groups of schemes together in a way which is consistent with proper
procurement practice but gives companies greater certainty and
greater assurance over a period longer than a single project in
which they can invest in the plant and the training and development
of their resource. I am acutely conscious that we in government
collectively are potentially making significant demands on the
construction industry and the more we can engage with them in
planning ahead, the better chances we have of both smooth and
cost effective delivery.
157. You are not willing to give us a rough
approximation that within three years or within five years you
will have reached that point.
(Mr Matthews) We would hope very swiftly after key
decisions are made by ministers on the big multi-modal studies
that we shall be in a position to be clear with the industry and
be clear with the freight industry and the local authorities and
others who will be affected by the programme what that programme
will be and what the procurement strategy will be for managing
158. You have made what appear to be some very
optimistic estimates about how you are going to be able to shorten
the process for these projects. The project commencement to public
consultation time is going to drop from 143 to 43 weeks, the preferred
route to draft orders from 152 to 90 weeks. Why did you not do
(Mr Matthews) In previous times what generally drove
procurement practice was a series of sequential decisions. You
did not start another part until you had finished and signed off.
That was in part slightly defensive and cautious use of public
resource. Increasingly we have come to the view and the experience
that a combination of better and earlier consultation and better,
slicker procurement involving doing work in parallel rather than
waiting for every decision before you move onto the next stage
can save very significant chunks of time.
159. Do you have any projects which have succeeded
in meeting these optimistic timescales?
(Mr Matthews) We have only been working on the full
gamut of this new timescale for the last two or three years, but
we are already seeing, in schemes which are coming in at points
in this process, some very rapid delivery. There is a scheme in
Lincolnshire which is in the programme at the moment where we
are anticipating that we can deliver that scheme to start on site
within four years. One of the key elements of better procurement,
which is not our initiative, it is one Sir John Egan and others
have been advocating across the construction industry, is to get
the supply team involved at a much earlier stage. You do not bring
the contractor on at the eleventh hour when every bit of constructor
innovation has been designed out of the process. One of the things
we are doing, which is called early contractor involvement, is
appointing the contractor at a much earlier stage and we are now
beginning to appoint contractors even before we have been through
some of the statutory processes so that they can become more involved
with the public consultation and the design and so that the whole
process of inquiry, if a scheme needs to go to public inquiry,
is informed by the builders' view on how a scheme can be developed.
It is a combination of better consultation and modernising our