Written evidence submitted by Highways England (MTP0067)
Highways England is the government-owned company responsible for operating, maintaining and improving England’s 4,300 miles of motorways and major A-roads, the Strategic Road Network.
The government sets the objectives and funding for Highways England through a periodic Road Investment Strategy (RIS), which covers a five-year Road Period. In response, Highways England publishes a Strategic Business Plan and Delivery Plan setting out how it will deliver the RIS. The government committed to a five-year funding settlement to allow Highways England and its supply chain to plan their work efficiently and ensure the confidence needed for them both to invest in people, equipment and technology; growing the skills and capability necessary to deliver the scale of improvements planned to the network.
The first RIS was published in 2014 and applied to the first Road Period, 2015 to 2020. RIS2 was published in March 2020 and applied to the second Road Period, 2020 to 2025. We are now gathering evidence to inform RIS3, which will apply to the Road Period starting in 2025.
Created in 2015, Highways England delivered £15.2 billion of investment between 2015 and 2020. During this first Road Period we:
In April 2020, we entered the second Road Period and we started to deliver RIS2. We are investing £27.4 billion into England’s Strategic Road Network over the next five years.
The Strategic Road Network
The Strategic Road Network (the ‘SRN’) is an important part of our national infrastructure. Our motorways and major A-roads provide essential connectivity across the country and help to connect the Union.
Our roads provide direct access to every part of the country. They connect our economic regions, people with employment, businesses with international gateways vital for trade, and they boost the construction and maintenance supply chain. Our network also plays an important social role, bringing people together and connecting communities and regions.
The United Kingdom has some of the safest roads in the world. The number of road deaths per million inhabitants is lower in the UK than in almost every country within Europe.
The SRN – key points:
Highways England welcomes the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) and the Construction Playbook, and we fully support the important role that infrastructure will play in the post-COVID 19 economic recovery.
As a key infrastructure delivery partner of the government, our plans for this second Road Period (2020-2025) and beyond will see us play an important role in realising the priority outcomes set out in the NIS. Our operation, maintenance and improvement of the SRN over the next five years and beyond will support:
In its second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) published in March 2020, the government set out its vision for a safer, more reliable and greener SRN that uses new technology, supports the country’s economy, and is an integrated part of the national transport network. The recent publication of the NIS reaffirms these concepts. In the second Road Period, Highways England are focused on delivering these outcomes with key considerations for road infrastructure including:
£2.23 billion of efficiencies. We will make improvements to how we procure and manage our suppliers, as well as to how we plan our own maintenance, operations and renewals. All money saved through efficiencies will be reinvested into the SRN.
In this written submission we set out more detail around our infrastructure priorities for the second Road Period (2020-2025) and beyond, and include several case studies reflecting our approach to infrastructure delivery (Annex A). We have not sought to answer all the questions set out in the inquiry’s terms of reference, instead we have focused on transport infrastructure priorities, factors influencing the costs of transport infrastructure, and capacity and skills in the sector.
Transport infrastructure strategy and priorities
Over the next five years we will:
Our Delivery Plan 2020-2025 commits us to:
These investments align with our strategic organisational priorities for the next five years:
Safer roads: Safety remains Highways England’s first imperative and any death on our roads is one too many. While our roads are some of the safest in the world, we recognise there is always an opportunity to make journeys safer, easier and more reliable for users.
Over the second Roads Period we will keep all our infrastructure safe, dependable and durable, recognising the important role that well-designed, well-constructed and well- maintained infrastructure plays in promoting safer, free-flowing journeys and safer working on the network.
By 2025, we want to have reduced the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads by 50%. Achieving this target will keep us on course to reach our goal of zero harm on our network by 2040.
COVID 19: Our response to the COVID 19 pandemic has been to ensure the safety of everyone that works or travels on our roads, and for those who work on our construction sites. We have ensured that our network has been able to support those essential journeys for key workers and the distribution of food, supplies and medicines.
We have adapted ways of working across our operations and enhancement projects to ensure that they can continue safely. Highways England has taken advantage of lower traffic levels to accelerate maintenance, renewal and enhancement activity across the network, where possible. We have innovated on some project sites to enable us to progress our work, whilst maintaining the safety of the project and supply chain teams. Adapting ways of working to maintain social distancing has increased costs for some projects, however, these are not considered to be material and are being managed through the contractual relationship the Highways England has with its supply chain.
Whilst overall traffic levels have been lower across the SRN since the start of the pandemic, the change has not been uniform. Freight traffic remains close to, if not exceeding, normal levels.
We are working closely with the Department for Transport (‘DfT’) and other stakeholders to build a more detailed understanding of how COVID 19 may affect future transport demand. High quality road infrastructure makes an important contribution to the economy and UK connectivity, and we expect that to remain the case post-COVID 19.
Well-operated and maintained roads: Maintaining the safe and efficient operation of our roads and associated infrastructure is good for our customers and good for the economy.
Over the next five years we are investing £10.8 billion in repairing and replacing road surfaces, bridges, barriers, signage and other assets, while keeping traffic moving on our roads 24/7, 365 days a year. We will increase investment in renewal activity to pre-empt problems, particularly across concrete roads, our largest structures and safety barriers.
We work collaboratively with local resilience forums as a Tier 2 Responder under the Civil Contingences Act. When civil contingency events are declared, we ensure that our roads continue to operate efficiently and safely. We continue to work as a partner of the Kent Resilience Forum to support efficient and safe traffic management during any border disruption in Kent.
Improving road infrastructure across the country: The SRN connects the whole country, our regions and our nations. Our Delivery Plan 2020-2025 builds on the progress we made in the first Road Period and ensures that funding is available to plan and deliver in the national interest.
In the second Road Period (2020-2025) we are continuing to deliver our programme of road infrastructure enhancements, including completing or progressing projects started in the first Road Period (2015-2020) as well as starting new projects. Our capital portfolio includes a balance of transformational and smaller-scale schemes, strategic investments, and regional investment:
As well as improving journeys for our customers these improvements will better connect all regions of the country and the United Kingdom, enhance our access to international gateways, and sustain up to 64,000 jobs in the construction supply chain. Our schemes will improve resilience and connections between ports, helping prepare for the forecast increased demand for freight capacity. Over 27 million vehicles are forecast to use our Lower Thames Crossing in its first year of operation, 4.5 million of which will be heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).
Highways England expects to deliver £2.23 billion of efficiencies by 2025, which will ensure that road-users will see even more investment for their money.
Smart motorways: We will deliver the actions set out in the government’s ‘Smart motorway safety evidence stocktake and action plan’[viii]. These actions include provision of additional infrastructure: the roll-out of stopped vehicle detection; conversion of dynamic hard shoulder to all-lane running; ten additional emergency areas on the M25; and improved visibility and signage of emergency areas.
Environment and sustainability: We recognize carbon reduction is a fundamental part of our plans and must be part of a wider strategy on environmental sustainability. As one of England’s largest landowners we have a strong focus on sustainability. We recognise the importance of the work we do to look after wildlife that lives alongside our network, and our work to protect and improve the environment for future generations.
We want our work not just to protect the environment, but to be good for it and enhance it wherever possible. We want our roads to work more harmoniously with the communities that live alongside them, and the built, natural and historic environments that surround them.
Over the next five years we will build on the progress we made in the first Road Period by:
The road to net-zero: Our strategic roads play a critical role in today’s economy and will continue to do so in a net zero economy.
Highways England will publish its Net Zero Carbon Strategy in 2021. We will set out our plans to reduce our corporate carbon emissions, emissions from our construction and maintenance, and how we will support the government’s plans to reduce emissions from road users (tail pipe).
Corporate emissions: In the second Road Period we have a target to reduce our carbon emissions resulting from our electricity consumption, fuel use and other day- to-day operational activities. We want this to be an ambitious target aligned with the Greening Government Commitments.
Construction emissions: Maintaining and improving our network is a carbon-intensive process. We will work in partnership with our supply chain to reduce carbon emissions from network-related activity. We will consider how we can incentivise the right behaviours and activities through our commercial contracts. We will use our designated funds for initiatives to reduce energy consumption and waste associated with our work, and promote the generation of renewable energy on our land.
Tail pipe emissions: We will continue to work with departments across government and with a wide range of stakeholders to support, develop, trial and fund emerging technologies, materials and approaches with carbon reduction and/or capture as the goal.
Our Delivery Plan 2020-2025 outlines our commitment to allocate investment from our Environment and Wellbeing Designated Fund to reduce the carbon emissions associated with construction, use, management and operation of our network. Over the second Road Period, we will prioritise projects that reduce energy consumption and waste, as well as generate renewable energy. For example:
Long term planning: Five-year funding cycles enable us to plan for the long term, and ensures value for money for our customers, the taxpayer and the country by driving efficiencies.
Working closely with the DfT, we have identified over 30 ‘pipeline’ schemes for consideration for the third Road Period (2025-30). This is partly informed by our existing route strategies process that identifies current and future requirements on the SRN. Over the next five years, we are starting development work to help inform the value, feasibility and prioritisation of these schemes.
Looking further ahead, we expect, and are planning for, advances over the next 30 years that will revolutionise transportation, road travel and personal and commercial mobility. Our roads, our infrastructure and even our ways of working will need to change to embrace and enable new ways of travelling. In our research paper ‘Connecting the Country’[ix], we identified the trends which will shape the SRN and influence our operations over the next 30 years and beyond. Using these trends, we explored the potential future scenarios and what we believe is most likely to happen. This will include adapting to the challenge of climate change, supporting low carbon transport, increasing automation and digital technologies, and responding to changing travel preferences.
Factors influencing the cost of transport infrastructure in the UK
Highways England has taken a number of steps to deliver infrastructure projects more efficiently, recognising the benefits that this brings to the taxpayer. Over the first Road Period (2015-2020), we delivered £1.4 billion of efficiencies and provided £2.50 of public benefit for every £1 we spent on our major schemes. Over the second Road Period (2020- 2025) we will deliver £2.23 billion of efficiencies. All money saved through efficiencies will be reinvested into the SRN, delivering greater value to the taxpayer
Driving efficiencies through our contracting models: We continue to make improvements to how we procure and manage our suppliers, as well as to how we plan our own maintenance, operations and renewals.
The way we work with our suppliers is changing. In the second Road Period our contracting models (including Asset Delivery, our Alliance Model and Regional Delivery Partnerships) will help us work more efficiently with our supply chain. We will reward suppliers based on performance, and encourage innovation. Our funding certainty means we can provide a reliable pipeline of work, helping suppliers invest in new techniques and training to provide greater efficiency and develop a lasting skills legacy.
Understanding risks, inflation and efficiency: As projects are delivered, risks may materialise and the ability of funding to cover projects can vary. We believe we have the right balance of risk, contingency, inflation and efficiency, and that our programme of investment is deliverable. If delivery is in line with expectations, or inflation is lower than anticipated, there is scope to gradually release funds for re-investment in our network.
Reducing design costs and construction time: In the second Road Period we will look to identify efficiencies in the early stages of our new enhancement projects (e.g. early design stages), when we have greater opportunity to influence the cost, as opposed to during construction phases.
We have already shortened the time it takes to develop and build enhancement schemes, and we will make further reductions by introducing the next generation of our Rapid Engineering Model. This will draw on data analytics and modular construction to reduce the design and build period of new schemes.
Our “Lean programme”[x] will also focus on the areas that will provide the biggest benefit. We will ensure that our supply chain is trained in Lean, and we will integrate Lean maturity assessments into our supplier assessments for both design and construction.
We continue to develop our capability by introducing improved ways of working in the delivery of infrastructure projects, including:
Transport infrastructure capacity and skills
During the first Road Period, Highways England invested in the development of our own in- house skills and expertise, and worked closely with supply chain partners to build their capacity. The government’s five-year road investment programmes have provided confidence within the supply chain to invest in technology and their workforce, with the focus on building skills and delivering apprenticeship programmes.
Highways England is working with the Strategic Apprenticeship Taskforce to support the delivery of the government’s ‘Transport infrastructure skills strategy’. We have encouraged our supply chain to create apprenticeship opportunities through contractual requirements.
During the first Road Period, our supply chain provided 765 apprenticeships across 40 business areas. Highways England also invested in our own skills base, recruiting over 300 apprentices and graduates in key capability areas, such as digital, project management, operational planning, commercial, finance and engineering.
We have already strengthened our internal capability, creating a strong foundation for efficient delivery over the second Road Period. We have, for example, introduced commercial, legal, regulatory and project management skills from outside the sector. This will help us bring about culture change and better manage contracts across all our programmes. Our improved in‑house programme management capability will also help us improve planning and scheme delivery, as well as support our work with stakeholders, communities and our supply chain.
We will build on this, in partnership with the supply chain, during the next road periods.
Finally, we would highlight the importance of good communication and engagement skills in the infrastructure sector, reflecting the importance of building community consent for projects and effectively demonstrating the benefits to peoples’ lives.
Annex A - Case studies
In this section we set out three case studies that illustrate how we have, or will approach road infrastructure delivery.
The case studies are:
The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon
The A14 is a vital road transport corridor between the North, the Midlands and the East of England; linking the A1 and M11 and providing freight access to key international ports. The scheme improves safety, tackles congestion, connects people and will unlock economic growth creating a positive legacy for future generations. The award-winning £1.4 billion scheme has provided much-needed connectivity and additional capacity on this strategic route. It was delivered eight months early and on budget.
This scheme provided the opportunity to employ, upskill and train up to 14,000 people. Using innovative construction methods delivered close to £200 million of efficiency, saving time and money. Examples included:
We used our designated funds to increase scheme benefits. Working in partnership with our supply chain and key stakeholders we funded several projects, including:
We have aimed to leave a positive environmental legacy. We improved the habitats for many of the more vulnerable wildlife species, created over one square mile of new habitat in 18 areas, and planted twice as many trees and shrubs as were removed. We also built 24 wildlife tunnels across our scheme to give animals safe places to cross.
To improve the impact of construction on the environment, we reduced the scheme’s carbon footprint by:
Rapid Engineering Model
Our Rapid Engineering Model enables quicker development of our network through automatic digital design.
Three‑dimensional topographic data is analysed alongside environmental data to help identify opportunities and risks within a specific project, or along an entire asset in our network. This has reduced design time from months to weeks, and means that scheme options can be produced and assessed much faster.
We are digitising the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges to future proof our standards. This digital manual will enable the further development of our Rapid Engineering Model.
The next generation of the model will reduce the cost and
delivery time for major schemes, using data analytics and modular construction techniques. By providing a data‑driven approach to asset management, the model will also support business operations.
Highways England and biodiversity
During the second Road Period, we are creating more biodiverse new grasslands as standard across our schemes, covering hundreds of miles. Around 97% of all species rich grasslands had been lost in the last century and our new construction design standards could create substantial areas of biodiverse grasslands, stretching throughout England. £66 million from our designated funds will be used to help us achieve no net loss of biodiversity.
On all major schemes, contractors are now being instructed to follow a new Low Nutrient Grasslands policy aimed at keeping away the ‘bullying’ plant species which love high nutrient soil, and allowing wildflowers to thrive, creating vital habitat for insects and other wildlife. By adopting this new policy, Highways England is aiming to: improve safety by reducing the number of maintenance visits; reduce the carbon footprint through fewer maintenance visits; maximise grassland biodiversity of new construction projects; reduce long-term maintenance costs by reducing vegetation growth; and capitalise on potential cost savings by eliminating the need for topsoil import and haulage.
The increase in wildflowers and wider biodiversity should also provide some impressive visual displays, and help to connect people with nature and improve the wellbeing of millions of people using our roads every day.
Over the last few years a number of biodiversity schemes have been undertaken by Highways England including: