Strategic road investment – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Transport Committee

Related inquiry: Strategic road investment

Date Published: 27 July 2023

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In 2015 the Infrastructure Act created a new investment regime for the Strategic Road Network (SRN) to provide the people and businesses that rely on it with assurances about upkeep and efficiency. But since then, road building projects have been beset by delay and overspend, amidst legal challenges on environmental grounds. In the face of increasing costs, looming net zero commitments and an ageing network in need of maintenance, the Department needs to ensure that future Road Investment Strategy portfolios are deliverable. It is time for the Government to reconsider its portfolio of expensive, complex SRN enhancement projects.

Alignment with government policy goals

The Government has identified the SRN as a key driver of growth and productivity. However, the extent to which further investment in the Network would help to boost growth, in comparison to investment in other modes of transport and connectivity, is contested.

In June 2019, the UK Government committed to decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy by 2050, and its strategy for decarbonising transport is reliant on a rapid switch to zero emissions vehicles. But traffic on the Strategic Road Network is forecast to increase and there is a risk that uptake of cleaner vehicles will not be fast enough to mitigate it. The Government should model and report on future scenarios where demand for the SRN is managed and must also provide a credible strategy for meeting the power needs of the future vehicle fleet.

Meeting user priorities

The SRN is ageing and requires significant renewal work, with many of its users demanding improvements in its day-to-day maintenance and upkeep. Future investment should be focused on renewing older parts of the SRN and ensuring that resources are available to run the existing network efficiently. The Government must make sufficient provision for both revenue and capital maintenance funds, and could make more money available by cancelling complex, costly enhancement projects.

Portfolio planning and delivery

Throughout Road Investment Strategies 1 and 2, National Highways has overspent and underdelivered. The Department for Transport needs to ensure that future Road Investment Strategies are deliverable and reconsider the viability of its expensive enhancement projects. The Department should introduce more robust measures to assess deliverability when setting a Road Investment Strategy and must also produce a plan for how it will better anticipate and deal with risks to timely delivery, and to ensure projects remain on budget and good value for money.

Engagement with sub-national transport bodies

Sub-national transport bodies, were established following the publication of National Highways’ licence and have no codified role in the Road Investment Strategy setting process. National Highways’ licence should be updated to include a formalised engagement process with STBs. This would enable STBs to convey regional priorities more effectively, and help National Highways gain a better understanding of potential risks and mitigations for schemes proposed for the regions.

Reporting and transparency

Understanding and scrutinising the delivery progress of a Road Investment Strategy portfolio or project involves cross-referencing multiple reporting documents from National Highways and the Office of Rail and Road. This is not a convenient or accurate way of assessing progress, especially given the frequent changes that can be made to Road Investment Strategies. Reporting on the delivery of Road Investment Strategy portfolios must be simplified, and National Highways should introduce a “live” project dashboard which provides up-to-date information on each SRN project.