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New powers for transport bodies as roads reforms ramp up

A rail safety watchdog and a transport user body are to get greater powers as the government progresses its plan to reform the Highways Agency.

Road minister John Hayes said the Office of Rail Regulation and Passenger Focus would be given the ability to hold the reformed Agency to account.

Ministers want the Highways Agency to become a government-owned company with a fixed, long-term budget and more flexibility to manage the strategic road network.

The ORR will be able to issue fines if the Agency does not honour its promises and the conditions of its licence. Passenger Focus will become Transport Focus and carry out research into road users’ experiences.

Both these changes will be introduced as amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, which also contains the plans to reform the Agency. The Bill is with Parliament at present and could gain Royal Assent in the spring.

Hayes said: “The reform of the Highways Agency and the introduction of a long-term vision for the road network is at the heart of this government’s £24bn commitment to improving our road network and ensuring long-term certainty in unlocking economic growth.

“These changes along with the introduction of a new road monitor and watchdog, will make sure road users’ voices are heard and that decisions made are accountable to taxpayers, building on the good work that the Office of Rail Regulation and Passenger Focus do now.”

Civils contractors earlier this year backed the plans to reform the Highways Agency. They hope the changes will bring the funding certainty needed to make long-term staffing and procurement decisions that will increase the efficiency of roads projects.

Government plans for the Highways Agency

The government response to the reform proposals consultation excercise earlier this year confirmed its intention to:

  • Transform the Highways Agency into a government-owned, strategic highways company with the legal powers and duties to manage and run the roads. It will be appointed under the terms of a licence from the transport secretary, which sets clear conditions about how the company must act
  • Put in place a robust system of governance for the company, giving the road operator the flexibility to operate, manage and enhance the strategic road network effectively, while ensuring accountability to the transport secretary, Parliament and road users
  • Establish – for the first time – a road investment strategy, which will detail the company’s performance standards and the investment programme it will deliver over the next five years.
  • Set up bodies to represent the interests of strategic road network users. They will monitor the efficiency and performance of the company.

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