A new independent study for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund has identified the need for a Major Road Network in England.
Currently 4,200 miles of England’s motorways and ‘A’ roads – the strategic road network managed by Highways England – are benefitting from a £15 billion five-year improvement programme and a new regime for long-term planning.
However, the study identifies another 3,800 miles of council-controlled ‘A’ roads in England that also deserve special recognition because of their importance to the economic wellbeing of regions and the country as a whole. According to the report, these roads are losing out because many of the local authorities struggle for funds as their budgets continue to be squeezed.
Putting these local authority ‘A’ roads alongside the SRN forms the 8,000-mile Major Road Network – a new concept network with the connectivity and broad geographical scope to meet the needs of business across the country. This network carries 43% of the England’s traffic on just 4% of road mileage.
In the Rees Jeffreys report – A Major Road Network for England – published today (12 October 2016) the authors David Quarmby and Phil Carey see no need to transfer control of these additional ‘A’ roads to Highways England.
But the report argues that, while these roads remain under local authority management, they need long-term planning and funding commitments comparable to those now in place for the strategic road network. This will help ensure they become fit for purpose, alongside the SRN. The new devolved organisations coming into being like Transport for the North and Midlands Connect can do much to make this longer-term planning effective.
From 2020 Highways England is expected to be largely funded from a new National Roads Fund, which should receive over £5 billion a year from Vehicle Excise Duty in England. The Rees Jeffreys report suggests that some of the National Roads Fund money could also contribute to improving those local authority roads designated as part of this Major Road Network.
David Quarmby, lead author of the report, said: “You clearly have to draw the line somewhere, but there is a strong argument for the economic importance of many more miles of ‘A’ road being acknowledged – while recognising the value of them remaining under local control. If they are given premier league status they should have access to premier league planning, funding and continuity.
“Just last week the Chancellor committed to continuing public investment in our infrastructure, while ensuring economic growth is distributed more evenly across the regions. Investing in the Major Road Network will – through its greater connectivity and broader geographical scope than the strategic road network alone – help to achieve that wider spread of growth.
“In return for appropriate levels of funding the Major Road Network must become ‘fit for purpose’. This means being driven by the needs and concerns of users; tackling adverse impacts on communities and the environment, including fitting in with the particular challenges of larger urban areas; and ensuring the network is safe, effectively managed and well-maintained.”
Phil Carey, co-author, added: “This report is a toolkit, not a detailed blueprint. But we think it’s what’s needed to help ensure a better service from our major roads – one that meets the needs of users, businesses and communities, across the country.”
David Hutchinson, chair of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, said: “The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund has a long-standing interest in our country’s road system, recognising that the vast majority of travel takes place on roads. In commissioning this study, the trustees wanted to focus on the roads that matter most in supporting our national and regional economies. We welcome the authors’ innovative idea of a Major Road Network – and the focus on the planning, funding and governance issues that flow from it. We believe it merits serious consideration by central and local government and by the bodies responsible for planning and operating our important highways.”