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Thumbs up for Highways Agency after year long review

The year-long review of the Highways Agency has concluded that the road operator remains largely fit for purpose.

But Highways Agency chairman Alan Cook’s review stresses that government has failed to adequately invest in the UK’s road network.

Cook’s report calls on government to give the Agency a five year spending settlement, similar to that offered to Network Rail.

The cash would be awarded to enable the Agency to deliver to set of specific outcome-based objectives designed with the needs of road users in mind. A specification would set out the expected levels of capacity and performance, along with safety and environmental standards. A new, independent board would oversee the work and be held accountable for any failure to deliver.

The Agency would commit to delivering additional cost efficiencies of £200M each year in return for the committed spending plan, but not for five years. The Agency is already committed to a post-Comprehensive Spending Review efficiency programme which aims to bring annual spending on the network down from £2.7bn in 2010/11 to £2.1bn in 2014/15.

The report also says that any expansion of the highway network should be funded by tolls, with the Agency acting as expert advisor.

Why it matters

The review calculates the value of the strategic highway network as £99bn. It says operating, maintaining and enhancing this network effectively is “crucial” to the UK’s economic performance. It cites a recent single incident which closed Junction 7 of the M25 at rush hour that is estimated to have cost the economy £1.74M, or £62,000 an hour. By 2035, traffic volumes are projected to be 46% higher, and average delays 54% longer, than in 2003. At the same time, constraints on public funding make it imperative that the industry achieves more with less.

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