Written evidence submitted by National Highways (RDF0027)

National Highways

National Highways (formerly Highways England) is the government-owned company responsible for operating, maintaining and improving England’s motorways and major A-roads, the Strategic Road Network (SRN).


Our network is integral to our customers’ journeys and is the backbone of the country’s economy, moving more freight than all other transport modes put together. Our operational services help our customers – the public, business users, freight hauliers, local communities and partners – travel safely and efficiently on one of the most highly used networks in Europe.


The Strategic Road Network

The SRN is an important part of our national infrastructure. Our motorways and major A-roads link towns, cities and regions across England 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 UK 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.



National Highways’ work and the performance of the SRN is highly relevant to the freight sector. Our submission sets out more detail on our work in these areas:

Predictable, reliable and safe journeys

A safe and free-flowing SRN is vital for the country and for the freight sector. In Road Investment Strategy 2 (2020-2025)[1] we will be investing £24 billion in the SRN, which includes operating and maintaining our existing infrastructure across the country, as well as delivering road enhancements projects.

We are working closely with the freight sector as part of our day to day management of the network, and have established the following to help deliver better journeys for road freight:

Enhancing roadworks information across our network

To minimise the impact of planned closures on freight customers:

Maximising capacity on key routes at key times

Clearing incidents quickly and safely

Reducing delays through roadworks

Operation Brock


Preparing for the future

It is estimated that road freight contributed £13.6 billion[2] to the UK economy in 2019, prior to COVID.  Road continues to be the main mode for transporting freight across the UK, carrying nearly 80% of domestic freight in 2020.[3] A significant proportion of businesses are, and are likely to remain, heavily reliant on the SRN. Collectively these SRN-reliant sectors employ more than 7.4 million people and contribute over £314 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to England’s economy[4].

The COVID travel restrictions saw a temporary decline in social and commuting journeys on the SRN. At the same time, we saw an increase in freight journeys above the normal level, in line with an increase in demand for goods bought online.

We expect a continued increase in demand for road freight journeys in the short, medium and long-term. It is essential to prepare the SRN now to ensure that we can meet that demand for increased capacity on key routes, exploit the benefits and opportunities and support the government’s ambition on net zero.

Maintaining and improving the SRN

We know that keeping the SRN operating safely and free-flowing is important for all road freight journeys today. As well as the day to day to operational activities outlined above, we are also working to prepare the network for the future by:


The government’s Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) set out the infrastructure delivery programme for National Highways between 2020 and 2025. RIS2 is a balanced portfolio of small-scale improvements to the network and larger, more transformational projects, such as the Lower Thames Crossing. Road enhancements at either end of this scale can deliver significant benefits to freight, either by enhancing a key corridor, such as on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, or by alleviating congestion at a known pinch point.

Case study: Lower Thames Crossing

For almost 60 years the Dartford Crossing has stood as the only crossing between Kent and Essex. As one of the UK’s most important strategic roads, the crossing is a critical link carrying vital food, goods and services between the country’s key manufacturing centres, distribution hubs and ports. Yet despite having a total design capacity of 135,000 vehicles a day, the crossing now carries more than 180,000 on its busiest days.

The demand on the Strategic Road Network and the Dartford Crossing remained high throughout the pandemic. Goods vehicles travelling through the crossing continued to play a vital role moving essential goods to supermarkets and homes. 

The strategic importance of the Dartford Crossing is increasing and now supports the change in working and shopping patterns in England. 42% of vehicles using the Dartford Crossing are now goods vehicles, up from 33% in 2019. December 2020 saw the busiest day ever recorded for HGV traffic, which is now consistently above 2019 levels. 

The need to tackle the capacity issue is greater than ever, which the proposed Lower Thames Crossing seeks to address. Consisting of the longest road tunnel in the UK between north Kent and south Essex, the Lower Thames Crossing will include 14.3 miles of new road linking the M2/A2, A13 and M25. By almost doubling road capacity across the River Thames east of London, it will provide national road freight with a reliable new connection. The proposed new crossing will create new opportunities to link people and jobs, businesses and customers.

The Lower Thames Crossing is predicted to reduce the number of HGVs at the Dartford Crossing, as it would provide a more attractive route for many vehicles travelling to and from manufacturing centres, distribution hubs and ports. The tunnel will accommodate all sizes of vehicle expected to use it, including double decker vehicles. This will reduce the requirement to convoy oversize vehicles, which currently causes delay and disruption at the Dartford Crossing.

Network performance and future priorities

National Highways is working closely with government to develop an authoritative evidence base that will underpin investment choices in future road periods.


Case study: Solent to Midlands strategic freight study

In July 2021, National Highways and Network Rail jointly published a ‘Solent to the Midlands Multimodal Freight Strategy – Phase 1’. The strategy is the culmination of a year’s work between the two organisations and represents a further step forward in the collaboration between National Highways and Network Rail in multimodal strategic planning and other areas to better serve our customers.

This study forms part of Network Rail’s Long-Term Planning Process and National Highways  Route Strategy and Pioneer Projects work, both of which are designed to identify investment priorities for the future. This closer approach to planning and increased involvement of stakeholders is vital to delivering the best results for our customers and funders.

Key findings include:

Next steps include:

Lorry parking and facilities

We recognise that people are at the heart of the freight sector and keep the country moving. We understand the vital importance of lorry parking and high-quality rest facilities that provide a safe and comfortable environment for hauliers to safely break their journey on the SRN.

Whilst National Highways does not have statutory responsibility for providing lorry parking, we are committed to play our part in tackling the current shortage of suitable facilities.

We are considering how our land holdings can be used to provide additional parking spaces nationwide. We are also encouraging the inclusion of new facilities as part of local authorities’ Local Plans and within large industrial developments.

We continue to work with government to explore what additional support National Highways could provide.

Net zero

We published our ‘Net zero highways: 2030/2040/2050’ plan earlier this year. The plan includes a number of commitments and initiatives that are relevant to freight and recognises that:

Britain relies on roads today

Road travel will decarbonise fast

A net zero Britain will still travel by road in 2050

Investment in Britain’s roads supports a thriving net zero economy

Zero carbon HGVs

Around one-third of emissions from the SRN currently come from HGVs. The Department for Transport’s Decarbonising Transport: A Better, Greener Britain (2021) phases out non-zero emissions trucks from 2040. There are a number of potential alternative fuels and techniques under consideration, including hydrogen, batteries and in-road charging networks.

As set out in our net zero plan, we will take the following actions:


National Highways is supporting the Department for Transport’s ‘Zero Emission Road Freight Trial’ feasibility studies. These studies are investigating the viability of both hydrogen fuel cells and electric road systems for large HGVs and we are providing advice and asset information to the study teams. Safety is our number one priority and we are working with the Department for Transport to identify potential risks and measures to address them, as the studies develop.


Working with the freight industry

The freight sector is one of our key customer groups. A free-flowing, safe SRN that offers efficient, predictable and reliable journeys is key to logistics and freight organisations across the country, as well as the businesses that rely on these services.

To help serve the needs of our freight customers we convene a quarterly Freight Forum, with representatives from a number of haulage and logistics organisations.

Our Freight and Roadside Facilities team have established a Professional Driver Experience Panel to provide detailed insight from freight drivers on our network. We are using Transport Focus’ Logistics and Coach Managers Survey to improve the service we provide to businesses.

Through our engagement with freight customers we are continuing to build our understanding of the sector’s needs and priorities. Areas of focus include improving the provision of lorry parking, communicating and working with the sector and understanding key freight movements on our network.

Our dedicated Commercial Incident Prevention Team provides free, professionally certified training modules to freight partners on a range of issues including tyre checks, consequences of poor loading, blind spots and diesel spillage best practice.

We also provide free road safety guidance to freight organisations, which includes guidance for driving on England’s motorways (translated into 15 languages), tailgating, seatbelts and safely securing heavy loads.


December 2021



[1] The government sets the objectives and funding for National Highways through a periodic Road Investment Strategy (RIS), which covers a five-year Road Period. In response, National Highways publishes a Strategic Business Plan and Delivery Plan setting out how it will deliver the RIS. 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.


[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/tsgb04-freight#domestic-freight-transport