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Highways England 'indefinitely pauses' 11 major road schemes

Stop road

Highways England has paused 11 major road schemes “indefinitely”, because of concerns that they are not value for money.

The road operator’s chief executive Jim O’Sullivan confirmed that the 11 schemes would be delayed for up to five years, after ruling that investment in the projects could no longer be justified.

Highways England has yet to name the projects that have been paused, however, has confirmed that all 11 were part of the government’s £15bn road investment strategy which was launched in 2015 and comes to a conclusion in 2020.

The five-year programme was supposed to upgrade 112 sections of road, including placing the A303 in a tunnel under Stonehenge, increasing sections of dual carriageway on the A1 in the northeast, and upgrading a third of the junctions on the M25.

Of the original 112 schemes, Highways England has confirmed that 29 have been finished, 15 are under way and 18 would start before the end of this year.

Quoted in Transport Network, while speaking at the Traffex conference, O’Sullivan said: “We revisited 11 and the return on investment just wasn’t good enough. We have paused those, perhaps for a time when the traffic demand will make them more viable.”

A Highways England spokesperson said that more information about the 11 schemes would be revealed in its annual delivery plan later this year.

“We’re on track to deliver the road investment programme agreed with the government,” said the spokesperson.

“We regularly review our plans to ensure they are achieving value for money for the taxpayer, and so motorists using motorways and major roads face the fewest possible delays.

“Meanwhile the upgrades we’re delivering are helping to keep drivers and businesses moving, and boosting the country’s economy.”

Highways England has confirmed that some upgrades are likely to be scrapped, with others pushed into its RIS2 investment programme, which will run from next year to 2025.

The pause comes as concerns continue to dog two of Highways England’s flagship projects, the Lower Thames Crossing and the Stonehenge Tunnel. MPs have recently expressed concerns about how they will be funded.

Both projects were set to be part funded by PF2 private finance deals, but since chancellor Phillip Hammond scrapped all PFI/ PF2 projects in the Autumn Budget, Highways England has been waiting to see what alternatives the Department for Transport will put forward.

As the projects were due to be privately funded, they were left out of the £25.3bn RIS2 draft funding plan.

At the time of the Autumn Budget Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told New Civil Engineer that it – and the industry – needed an answer by the end of January. It is still waiting four months into the year.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Philip Alexander

    Here we go again. And the government wonders why contractors and consultants find it difficult to manage their staff resources and invest in training their staff. It's pathetic that so soon after trumpeting their 5 year plan it's suddenly found that certain projects are not "value for money". Don't they carry out pre-investment studies any more to determine the priority list of schemes to build?
    Every now and then there's a big fanfare that HE (or HA or DTp or DoT or whatever they are called this week) have provided certainty to the industry by publishing a five year plan or a 3 year plan or whatever and then it all falls to bits because the politicians need to fund their latest vanity white elephant, in this case of course, HS2. This project of course has a negative BCR so there's no economic benefit to the country. So how can HE use this criterion to bin projects when HS2 seems to live a charmed life?

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  • Michael Thorn

    Agreed! Whether it's roads or railways, the Department for Transport, its politicians and its permanent staff have no credibility left. And what are our new high-flying ICE Trustees with all their "influence" doing about it?

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  • @ Philip Alexander "Don't they carry out pre-investment studies any more to determine the priority list of schemes to build? "
    From the outside looking in it appears that HE's (sorry Highways England's) eyes were bigger than their belly - having been given all that RIS1 money - and any project that had been shelved over the last decade or more was shoved into the programme as a bit of a punt.

    As you suggest, telling consultants to go all-out on the design of a scheme one day and then stop, literally a couple of weeks later, is no way to run any transportation system, rail-based or otherwise. Ah well, I can't wait for the "skills shortage that could affect 'Routes to Market' delivery" that we'll be told about in a few months time.

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