Ms Greening’s plan for reforming management of the strategic road network is the government’s response to last November’s report A Fresh Start for the Strategic Road Network by Highways Agency chairman Alan Cook.
The transport secretary has also published the terms of reference for a feasibility study on new ways of getting private money into the road network. The study was commissioned by the prime minister in March. Tolling on new roads is likely but has been ruled out – for the moment at least – on existing roads.
Ms Greening said: "My goal is to transform the Highways Agency in to a best in class organisation. That's why I have agreed to many of the actions Alan Cook recommends. This paves the way for a more efficient, business like and commercially focussed operator, which crucially does much more to listen and respond to the needs of road users.
“Together with the terms of reference for the feasibility study, this constitutes an ambitious integrated programme for reforming the road network in both the short and long term."
In commissioning further studies, Ms Greening has held back from agreeing to Mr Cook’s recommendation that the Department for Transport should provide full five-year spending commitments for roads investment as a means of driving greater efficiency savings. The recommendation had received strong support from civil engineering contractors, recognising the significant improvements contractors can deliver in situations where there is a clear and committed long-term programme of investment.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs Alasdair Reisner responded: “We recognise that the current feasibility study may lead to considerable change in the way that our motorways and trunk roads are managed. It is therefore sensible to leave any final decision on funding certainty until a decision has been made on the way that the network will be managed in future. However, we believe that the case for long-term funding certainty is strong, and we will be working with other representatives from industry to provide evidence of this to the feasibility study team.”
CECA welcomed other commitments made by the government in its response, including the development of a long-term strategy for the roads network, and the creation of performance specification for the network based on outcomes desired by motorists and the wider public.
However it also warned that reform to the way the strategic roads network is run need to be carefully managed to ensure that the change process does not lead to delays in the delivery of the Highways Agency’s existing programme of works.