Highways England has done most of what it is supposed to do and done it better than the Highways Agency before it, the industry regulator says, but there is still room for improvement and key targets look like being missed.
Highways England, which began life in 2015, has been given a broadly positive report by the industry regulator that now monitors its performance, the Office of Rail & Road (ORR). ORR’s latest annual assessment of Highways England's performance covers the first five-year ‘road period’ (or RP1), from April 2015 to March 2020.
In the first five years Highways England has delivered a £15bn investment programme in England’s motorway and trunk road network.
The original plan in 2015 was to start 112 schemes during the period but it was later agreed with the Department for Transport to cut this to just 73. ORR says that it achieved 95% of its commitments for delivery of major improvement schemes in Road Period 1, although 10 of the 73 schemes overspent their budgest by more than 10%. The largest overspends were generally against smart motorway programme schemes, ORR said.
In 2018, 2,152 people were killed or seriously injured on the strategic road network. This represents a 30% reduction from the baseline period (2005-09). While road safety is as much about vehicle technology and driver behaviour as highway infrastructure, ORR credits Highways England for contributing to this.
However it adds: “If this rate of improvement were to be sustained by Highways England, it would not meet its safety target of a 40% reduction by the end of 2020; further work is required to achieve this.”
And further investment is needed to meet its longer-term goal, says the ORR, that nobody should be harmed on the network by 2040.
ORR chief executive John Larkinson said: “Highways England was set up in 2015 as a result of the UK government’s programme for roads reform, and the ORR took on its scrutiny role. The reform brought an unprecedented level of investment planning and government’s promise of secure funding.
“Over the last five years Highways England has made very good progress and we have seen it meeting almost all of the targets it was set. We have pushed Highways England hard to deliver on safety, efficiency and meeting the needs of road users.
“Highways England’s task is going to get bigger, as it needs to deliver a larger programme of works set out in the government’s 2020 Road Investment Strategy, and we will continue to provide close scrutiny.”