Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Freight Association Welcomes Reorganisation of UK Road Network Management

Infrastructure Bill Leads to Complete Reform of Highways Agency Duties Which Impacts on Road Haulage Interests
Shipping News Feature

UK – The UK government has outlined its plans to reform the Highways Agency and introduce a long term vision for improving the UK road network by creating new ‘watchdog’ and ‘monitor’ bodies that will together aim to better the performance of England’s motorways and major roads, something which will impact on road haulage interests. The move has been welcomed the Freight Transport Association (FTA) which also calls for all party support of these road reform proposals.

Under the plans, the Highways Agency will soon be transformed into a government-owned company responsible for over 4,300 miles of motorways and major roads, giving the agency more flexibility to manage the road network on a daily basis. Preliminary details were covered in our article in April 2014.

In addition to the wider reforms of the Highways Agency and the Strategic Road Network, which is made up of almost all of England’s motorways and its most important major ‘A’ roads, the government has announced that it intends to create two bodies to scrutinise the operation of the Strategic Road Network and provide advice to the Secretary of State.

The ‘Watchdog’ will now represent users of the Strategic Road Network, which includes motorists and business users, as well as cyclists and walkers, and will be responsible for gathering the views of the users to shape future policies and decisions. This function will be carried out by Transport Focus –Road Users, which will be part of the currently named Passenger Focus but will soon be restructured and renamed Transport Focus after receiving its new powers.

The ‘Monitor’ will analyse the performance and efficiency of the new Strategic Highways Company (SHC), which manages motorways and key trunk roads to help drive value for money and performance for taxpayers and road users, checking to see if the SHC is complying with the terms of its licence and delivering what is required under the Road Investment Strategy. This function will be carried out by the Strategic Road Network Monitor (SRNM), a unit which sits as a semi-autonomous part of the Office of Rail Regulation but which will work solely on road matters.

The reform of the Highways Agency and introduction of the government’s long term vision for the road network all form part of the Infrastructure Bill that was announced in Parliament earlier this year. The government’s existing £30 to £50 billion funding commitment to improve the country’s roads over the next 15 years will be underpinned by legislation and will aim to give roads users a more efficient and effective network that should be fit for the 21st century and beyond. The Infrastructure Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent by March 2015.

Changes also being introduced as amendments to the bill include the power for the SRNM to carry out independent enforcement activity if the highways company fails to deliver and new powers expanding the remit of Transport Focus. Both bodies will be awarded more funding and will expand their operations so their existing work will not be affected.

These amendments, taken together with the measures already in the bill, are intended to provide a strong framework for the management of England’s roads by strengthening accountability, driving efficiency and increasing transparency. The government believe this could create far more certain conditions for investment, encouraging businesses to gear up for the government’s ambitious plans for the future. Road Minister John 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 £24 billion 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 Regulator and Passenger Focus do now.”

The FTA works closely with Passenger Focus/Transport Focus and, in welcoming the government’s announcement, the Association recognised the importance of finding an effective solution which will survey and truly represent all road users opinion, and in particular that of freight. Karen Dee, Director of Policy at the FTA, said:

“The FTA is working closely with Transport Focus and supports its plans to make a difference for road users. There is a steep learning curve for the organisation in taking on this new and important role – not least in understanding what different road users require from the strategic road network. The FTA is keen to help Transport Focus develop the knowledge-base it needs so that it can be an effective voice for all road users.

“Taken together, the roads reform proposals set out in the Infrastructure Bill have potential to improve greatly the way we plan, deliver and operate our strategic roads. The FTA hopes that the Bill will receive cross-party support so we can put an end to the stop-start funding of roads improvements we have seen so often in the past.”