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Performance targets for extended road maintenance work

THE ROLE of England's trunk road super-agencies is set to change in a move towards a design, build, finance and operate approach to maintenance, the Highways Agency revealed this week.

Under the proposals, contract lengths would be extended to five years, with term contractors given detailed performance targets.

Area agents would no longer give work instructions but would have to check that roads met the specified quality of service. They would, however, continue to develop capital schemes and long term improvements to the network.

Director of network and customer services Peter Nutt said longer term contracts would bring cost savings and an improvement in quality. He added: 'What we're trying to do is achieve greater efficiency. We are shortening the procurement chain by taking one step out.'

The move follows the announcement by Chancellor Gordon Brown last week that government departments will be allowed to set budgets for three years instead of one. The Agency is now confident that it can persuade ministers to think even further ahead to allow spending commitments beyond five years.

New contracts of between five and seven years are likely to be trailed in the first six super-agency areas - areas 3, 5, 6, 8, 23 and 24 - which are due for renewal in 18 months time. The Agency is also considering bringing private finance into maintenance contracts, though this is likely to be difficult without including an element of new-build.

'It depends on what happens to the Private Finance Initiative either side of the roads review, but we are looking at all possibilities,' said Nutt.

Speaking earlier in the week at the 'Transport for tomorrow: engineering integrated solutions' seminar chief executive Lawrie Haynes said the Agency would continue to develop as a transport co-ordinator rather than a road building organisation.

'The Agency wants to play a full and constructive part in working with all organisations in finding and developing ideas and projects that can meet our future transport needs,' he said.

Matthew Jones

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