Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
160. I am a bit worried that you are doing things
before the statutory process. Presumably you are not short-circuiting
tendering processes and selecting contractors without going out
(Mr Matthews) No, we are not doing anything which
infringes proper procurement law and procurement practice. We
are for both small- and medium-sized construction and consultancy
advice, engineering and design advice, increasingly using what
are known as framework contracts, in other words you contract
with a range of organisations who have a range of skills and then
you call them off to do a scheme rather than contract scheme by
scheme. That of itself can take considerable time out of the process.
We are clear in appointing contractors ahead of statutory processes
and decisions that they are there to help us develop a scheme
and help us take schemes through the appropriate statutory process.
161. I am not quite clear what sort of safeguards
you are offering these contractors in terms of long-term commitment?
(Mr Matthews) It varies according to the scale and
size of the scheme. We have to pay a contractor if it turns out
they have been engaged in abortive work and a scheme falls. The
judgement we and ministers have taken is that the advantages in
terms of saving and cost benefit for the scheme overall make it
worth taking what in most schemes would be a fairly marginal risk.
162. The department told us that the bulk of
capacity expansion for all these studies is going to come in the
last three years of the ten-year plan, but if it takes seven years
to build, how can all of this happen by the time you expect?
(Mr Matthews) Not all of the schemes coming out of
the multi-modal studies will be delivered within the ten years.
163. No, I understand that. If the bulk of them,
which I take to mean the majority of the schemes, are in the last
three years and if you are already quoting seven years to us,
how are we going to get all of these? If they are not built before
2010, how can you claim to meet the congestion targets?
(Mr Matthews) A large number, not the bulk as you
have said but a considerable number, will be delivered much earlier
in the period. What we have to doand it goes back to the
earlier questionis ensure when we get those decisions that
we have the right structure and framework in place with the industry
that they can deliver it together with us. We do not build roads.
It is the private sector.
164. No, you are the person who commissions
(Mr Matthews) Yes; that is right. Our view now, given
the schemes which are on the table, is that if we get decisions
on those schemes then we have a procurement process in place,
subject obviously to planning inquiries taking longer than anticipated,
which means we have a very good chance of delivering all of the
schemes which meet our targets within that ten-year period.
165. You do that by giving undertakings to firms
that you will underwrite their costs even if they are not used.
(Mr Matthews) We will give limited undertakings that
we will pay them for the work they do, but there is an important
trade-off between the risk of that cost and the ability to get
on and deliver those schemes, to deliver them more cost effectively
and more efficiently, but also to deliver them more quickly.
166. Does that not rather limit the numbers
who can come in? Are you not getting yourself into a situation
where you appear to be developing contractual obligations to some
firms and not to others?
(Mr Matthews) No and we have been very careful in
our procurement strategy to ensure that we can package works in
a way which supports small- and medium-sized construction companies
for regional and smaller projects, but the fact is that very large
road and road infrastructure schemes are going to be within the
capability of a relatively small and defined number of contractors.
167. If there is a limited number of people
capable of carrying out these big schemes, why are you giving
them extra protection because they are the only people who could
possibly do the schemes anyway.
(Mr Matthews) The aim is not to give them additional
protection; that is not what we are doing. We are involving them
at an early stage so we get the benefit of their input through
the design process and the whole of the supply team, as has generally
been recommended in the construction industry, is assembled as
early as possible in the process rather than very late in the
day. It is not an issue of protecting the industry, it is getting
a better quality and a better cost of product for us.
168. Is the advantage not eroded by the time
it takes to get the whole scheme up and going?
(Mr Matthews) No; precisely not. The aim is, and we
are getting some examples of this already where we have appointed
contractors early, that that of itself can help accelerate the
whole design process. It is early days and we are not through
schemes where we have used all these new contractual processes.
It is an important contributor to shortening the time not lengthening
169. Most lay people have a very straightforward
view as to what the primary reason would be behind most motorway
congestion. I am wondering what your view is.
(Mr Matthews) We commissioned some research from the
TRL a couple of years ago which looked on our network at the causes
of congestion and that is the most secure evidence base we have.
They came up with the conclusion that about 65 per cent of congestion
was related to sheer volume of traffic, in other words, volume
and capacity, and about 25 per cent related to incidents and accidents
and that the balance of 10 per cent was caused by road works,
maintenance, upgrading, new development. It is that kind of balance.
I think you would find quite different figures in an urban area.
We are talking principally about the inter-urban network. Our
strategy therefore is very much aimed at tackling all of those
three sets of problems, rather than assuming that all of the problem
is the capacity and volume.
170. Would it not be safe to assume that if
two thirds or 65 per cent was down to volume, the bulk of that
would be at peak times, morning and evening?
(Mr Matthews) There is good empirical evidence to
support that, although certainly on some parts of our network
that peak time is beginning to spread.
171. Accepting that, would that not lead you
on logically to look at some form of charging in terms of trying
to spread the load throughout the day, especially on very, very
heavily used routes at the peak times?
(Mr Matthews) It has certainly been one of the arguments
advanced that road user charging would have more impact in terms
of time of travel than volume of travel. Ministers have made their
view clear on where they stand on road user charging and while
they are interested in listening and understanding that debate,
that is not something they wish to take forward within the ambit
of these studies and these decisions.
172. Is there a view within the agency that
simply building more roads and widening existing roads is not
(Mr Matthews) We have to operate within the policy
context set by ministers and therefore we are focusing on how
we tackle congestion without bringing in road user charging. What
we are looking at is a mixture and a package of schemes, partly
coming through from the multi-modal studies, which may involve
significant widening of capacity. Also, increasingly, we are looking
at how we manage the capacity on that network more effectively.
To use the example you quoted, one of the possibilities we are
looking at, is whether we could manage that peak demand better
by bringing the hard shoulder into operation for those peak periods.
There are obviously safety and driver behaviour concerns and the
fit-for-purposeness of the hard shoulder. If we can do that safely,
that might be a better and more logical answer to a particular
stretch of road than just adding capacity.
173. What do you do when the hard shoulder clogs
(Mr Matthews) One of the things we clearly have to
look at is what provision we would need to make for safety and
what we might call safe havens if people need to come off the
road for the normal traditional use of the hard shoulder. More
generally, this is one part of a package. If it were not the total
answer then we and ministers would need to look at it in terms
of whether it needs additional capacity, whether there are other
ways on that stretch of the network, particularly through things
like targeted improvement in junctions and junction layouts, which
in themselves could ease flow, using in a more widespread way
things like variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic
as we have on the western section of the M25 and access control
through ramp metering. There is a variety of measures which we
can take which are not just about adding capacity, they are thinking
about managing the use of the network more actively.
174. Having ruled out, however, one of the most
obvious means of management which is payment.
(Mr Matthews) Ministers have made their position clear.
Chairman: I am glad you think that.
175. On the question of using the hard shoulder,
would you make public results of safety assessments which you
carry out, because clearly there are enormous safety issues around
making a section of hard shoulder available for use by cars and
also the impact it will have elsewhere; when drivers become aware
of a particular location then the temptation will be everywhere
in the country. Already the hard shoulder is abused at times of
heavy congestion and that will just exacerbate it.
(Mr Matthews) Yes, but we would not limit the public
involvement or consultation to the safety study. It is very important
that we engage the road user organisations, the freight organisations.
Chairman: It might be helpful if you asked the
accident and emergency services as well. They might have a view.
176. In the packages you talked about every
example you used was actually about roads. When I think about
packages, I think about other forms of transport as well which
might be the solution to the problem. How do you ensure that your
trunk road programme is introduced at the same time as other improvements
such as buses or other modes of transport, rail transport networks?
(Ms Chipping) Within the Highways Agency we have been
doing a lot of work with colleagues out in the regions in the
course of the multi-modal studies, both in sitting on the steering
groups and advising on the particular schemes as they have been
developed, indeed we shall continue to have that contact both
with colleagues in the regions and with other agencies once we
are tasked with delivering the packages. Some of the multi-modal
packages have fairly close links with public transport provision,
the Cambridge to Huntingdon study for example. We have a clear
remit to work with other agencies, particularly in that case with
the local authority in terms of delivering the package. Equally
it is the case that not all elements of the multi-modal package
will be able to be delivered over the same timescale. It is very
much for us to be aware of what is going on in other areas, the
risks involved around delivering their elements of the package
and the inter-dependency of our element of the package with those.
Following up your point about elements which are not simply to
do with the provision of roads, in terms of managing the demand
on our network, we would work with local authorities and others
who could influence the pattern of behaviour for drivers and maybe
encourage businesses to spread their working times, encourage
more home working, so we can work with other bodies to try to
have an influence on the demand for our network.
177. Should the most important public transport
measures be put in place before any road programmes are started?
(Ms Chipping) I would suggest that if you waited for
any single element of the package, whether it be road public transport
or rail, you would be in danger of not delivering the multi-modal
package which ministers envisage when they set up the studies
and when they made recommendations. I would hope that we can work
closely with local authorities, and others implementing the public
transport elements, so that as closely as possible we can tie
the two together and deliver for the public what they want, which
is an integrated system of public transport and roads at the same
time. It is not straightforward and progressing one element at
a time sequentially would not, I suggest, answer the problem.
178. Do I take it from your answer that you
are saying that where there is a whole package in place which
needs to be implemented as part of one of the schemes, you would
commit yourself to implementing your element of that in its entirety,
that you would not suddenly change your priorities half way along
(Ms Chipping) It is clearly a very complex area to
try to bring all this together. This is one of the real strengths
of the multi-modal approach in terms of the analysis but difficult
in terms of delivery. What we shall be doing is looking at each
stage of the process. In terms of the initial analysis which has
been done it is possible to look at the impact of the road scheme,
the impact on the capacity to be provided by the road scheme alongside
the public transport scheme and assess from the point of view
of cost benefit the impact on the environment and other things,
whether each element does stand up in its own right. In most cases
the road scheme would do, which is perhaps different from some
of the other elements; it would still be worthwhile but you would
not get the full advantage of the whole package until you had
implemented the other elements as well. What we shall be doing
at each stage of the process, study stage, public inquiry stage,
is looking at the whole package, looking at the risks and probability
around the other elements of the package being delivered and assessing
whether there is any need for us to adapt our scheme accordingly.
179. Do you consider the wider impact of those
schemes, such as the effect on urban congestion?
(Ms Chipping) We have to look on a scheme by scheme
basis. Some of the multi-modal studies are clearly going to have
a bigger impact on congestion in urban areas than others. For
those dealing with stretches of motorways, such as the M6 from
Birmingham up to Manchester there is probably not likely to be
such a big impact in terms of the influence we can have on urban
travel patterns and the impact they will have on our network.
For some of the studies this could be quite a big element and
we shall certainly be looking out for that.