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Roads programme changes must be explained, says ORR

Lay-by on the A21

The roads regulator has made clear that changes to Highways England’s major upgrade programme – currently being discussed with government – must be made publicly available.

Changes to the programme are expected after the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) reported in February that Highways England was struggling to keep up with the pace of delivery needed to deliver its full progamme in the current five year Road Investment Strategy period (RIS1).

Highways England has also found that the scale of roadworks required to deliver its programme will have an adverse impact on its key performance targets around road user satisfaction.

The call from the ORR was made in its Annual Assessment of Highways England’s Performance, published yesterday.

The Annual Assessment notes that Highways England narrowly missed its target on road user satisfaction for 2016/17. Road user satisfaction was 89.1% against a target of 90% – down from 89.3% last year.

The ORR said that Highways England was improving its planning of major improvement schemes – a key recommendation of ORR’s last annual assessment, and of its update report in February 2017. It said the proposed changes would aim to reduce disruption to road users and ease “delivery constraints”. They also have the potential to give suppliers a more evenly spread timetable of work this should help to deliver future efficiency targets – another Highways England KPI is to deliver £1.2bn of efficiency savings over the five year period yet has so far managed a total of £169M over the first two years.

A changed programme is likely to see schemes deferred and reconsidered as options for delivery in the next road period and changes to the schedule of schemes remaining so that they can be delivered on a corridor-by-corridor approach.

The ORR said a number of schemes may start earlier than originally planned, and others may start later, the majority of which would then begin construction in the next road period.

It said Highways England was now reviewing its revised plans with government and is taking them through a formal change control process, and that once agreed, it expected them to be made publicly available.

ORR chief executive Joanna Whittington said she was pleased with Highways England’s response to earlier concerns around delivery.

“We welcome the company’s response to our concerns over the need to develop better plans for major improvement schemes, “she said.

“Highways England has also responded positively to recommendations from our in-depth review of how it manages its assets,” she added.

At the end of 2016/17, the proportion of network in good condition was at 94.3%, against a target of 95%.

“Improvements that the company is planning in these areas will help deliver a better experience for road users and cost savings for taxpayers”.

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