Transport secretary Justine Greening has been accused of ducking key decisions on future highways investment after announcing a series of reviews and feasibility studies in response to the Cook review of the Highways Agency.
In her response, Greening held back from agreeing to Cook’s recommendation that the Department for Transport should provide full five-year spending commitments for roads investment as a means of driving greater efficiency savings.
The recommendation had received strong industry support, recognising the significant improvements contractors can deliver in situations where there is a clear and committed long-term programme of investment.
The government has instead opted to carry out further work to understand the benefits of greater funding certainty as part of an ongoing feasibility study looking at the future ownership, financing and management of the roads network.
“We believe that the case for long-term funding certainty is strong, and we will be working with other representatives from industry to provide evidence of this to the feasibility study team,” said Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) director of external affairs Alasdair Reisner.
CECA welcomed other commitments made by the government in its response, including the development of a long-term strategy for the roads network, and the creation of performance specification for the network based on outcomes desired by motorists and the wider public.
A 20 year strategy for the national road network and new challenging performance targets for the Highways Agency to deliver against are central to Greening’s plan. The performance specification and strategy will be put out to consultation by the end of 2012with the aim of having the performance specification in place for the start of 2013/14 financial year.
Greening also published the detailed terms of reference for the feasibility study looking at ways of attracting private sector investment in the road network announced by prime minister David Cameron at the ICE in March.
This will examine how new financing approaches could interact with existing motoring taxation, but will not consider road pricing. It will determine the role of tolling in the provision of new infrastructure, but it will not consider tolling existing capacity. The study will report to Cameron in the autumn.
The Cook review and Greening’s response
Sir Alan Cook’s year-long review of the Highways Agency concluded that the road operator remains largely fit for purpose. He reported in December. Cook, who is Highways Agency chairman, instead stressed that government has failed to adequately invest in the UK’s road network.
Cook’s report urged the government to give the Agency a five year spending settlement, similar to that offered to Network Rail and the privatised water industry. The Agency would then use the cash to deliver to a set of specific outcome-based objectives designed with the needs of road users in mind.
Under the proposed regime, the Department for Transport (DfT) would set out expected levels of capacity and performance, along with safety and environmental standards. A new, independent board would oversee the Agency’s work and be held accountable for failures to deliver.
Cook said the Agency would commit to delivering additional cost efficiencies of £200M each year in return for the committed spending plan and clarity of purpose.
In Greening’s response, published today, she pledges a much smarter approach to planning through the production of route based strategies. These documents will identify what needs to be delivered on key routes, including any improvements, to achieve the outcomes set in the performance specification. They will support a much greater local and regional stakeholder involvement in planning for the network and help to inform investment decisions for the next spending review.
She has tasked the Highways Agency with drawing up initial strategies for each of its routes by the end of the current financial year.