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NCE Live News Updates Wednesday 30 October: Highways Agency could be transformed

Government consults on plans to turn road operating body into a government-owned company; plus fears expressed over government’s capability to handle large transport projectstra

5pm: George Osborne has been urged to find immediate funding for urgent road repairs in the forthcoming Autumn Statement.

Membership body the Road Surface Treatments Association called for the chancellor to invest in highway maintenance in his statement on 4 December.

“If the nascent recovery is to have any real momentum then it needs real investment and not rhetorical recognition of the importance of a well maintained road network to the national economy,” said RSTA chief executive Howard Robinson.

“This year has seen a number of announcements and declarations of the need to increase road maintenance funding. Yet the overall condition of the road network continues to deteriorate. In the forthcoming Autumn Statement we need to see the rhetorical headlines become real action.”


2.30pm: MPs have warned the government that it doesn’t have the skills to handle the large transport projects it is taking on.

The Public Accounts Committee said it was “sceptical” that the £5.5bn Thameslink upgrade project would be completed by its revised target of 2018.

It said the small size of the Thameslink team at the Department for Transport was exarcebated when a senior civil servant was moved to the team for High Speed 2.

“The apparent need to move the Thameslink senior responsible owner onto HS2 illustrates the scarcity of the project management and commercial skills that the Department has available,” warned the committee in a report out today.

The MPs called for the DfT to create a plan to build its skills base “to match the scale and ambition of its portfolio of projects.”


11am: Three employees of Vinci subsidiary Sogea Satom have been released by their captors after three years as hostages in Africa.

Thierry Dol, Pierre Legrand and Marc Feret were taken hostage in Niger in September 2010, along with Areva employee Daniel Larribe.

Vinci said it had received official confirmation of the release of the four men.

“It is with an immense joy that we learned of the release of our employees,” said Vinci chairman Xavier Huillard. “It comes as a huge relief to their families and friends and to all those who have worked or hoped for their return after such a long period of captivity.”


10.15am: Travel disruption on the scale of Monday’s storm-struck standstill could become the norm unless HS2 is built, a senior consultant has warned.

The government yesterday revised the benefit-to-cost ratio of the £42bn rail line from near break-even to 2.3 to 1. Research by Network Rail and Atkins showed that upgrading existing lines instead of building HS2 would result in up to 14 years of weekend closures.

UK rail sector director at engineering advisory firm WSP Dave Darnell said: “The commotion we saw on Monday is a poignant reminder of just how fragile our congested rail network is and how heavily we rely on it.

“HS2 will give us more capacity not only for extra journeys but also flexibility to strengthen this vital asset without widespread disruption.

“If the alternative – many years of delays and cancellations for much less benefit -  is an option we’re prepared to take, we may have to get used to this level of chaos more often.”


8.15am: The government’s plan to transform the Highways Agency could give contractors more idea of future workloads, according to the ICE.

Ministers have launched a consultation on proposals to turn the Agency into a government-owned company with an accompanying watchdog.

ICE director-general Nick Baveystock said: “These proposals could finally end the stop-start investment that has hindered effective management of our roads for too long, and we look forward to prompt introduction of the promised legislation so they are implemented speedily.”

He added: “ The supply chain also has a key role to play now in preparing for the changes and building its capacity.”


8am: Plans to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company have been announced by ministers.

A consultation on the move, intended to slash the cost of operating Britain’s roads by £2.6bn in 10 years, will run until 20 December.

Under the proposals, a watchdog will also be created to monitor the workings of the new company.

Roads minister Robert Goodwill said: “This government has committed to the biggest ever investment in our road network, worth £50bn over the next 15 years, but we need to make sure it is spent wisely.

“Efficiency savings are there to be made, but to secure these means changing how our motorways and trunk roads are managed and maintained.”

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