A Major Road Network for England: The final report


After two years the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund’s A Major Road Network for England study is complete. Our magazine, Surveyor, has been following the development of the concept and the research behind the study for the last year and has interviewed its two authors. We will be providing more in-depth analysis in the November magazine and a series of articles on this website.

Two of England’s top transport experts have produced a toolkit for the creation of a new stratum of road network; combining Highways England’s 4,200 miles of strategic roads with 3,800 miles of council-controlled ‘A’ roads, this Major Road Network (MRN) could set the template for regional highways delivery, as well as spatial planning, under the devolution agenda.

Phil Carey (left) David Quarmby (right)

David Quarmby CBE and Phil Carey, who have decades of experience in government and the private sector in helping shape national highways and transport policies, have already attracted interest from the Department for Transport (DfT) and council chiefs at the Local Government Association for their study A Major Road Network for England.

And the study – which was sponsored by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund - has also garnered positive responses from key figures in the prospective sub-national transport bodies (STBs).

The concept of the MRN is based on motorways and A-road links with average daily traffic flow greater than 20,000 vehicles, along with roads with as few as 10,000 vehicles, provided that at least 5% of that flow is heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) or 15% is light vans.

Using this foundation, the authors then made adjustments to: ‘(1) produce a coherent network connecting all towns with population greater than 50,000; (2) remove isolated links; and (3) reflect the differential pattern of growth by region and road type that is forecast by 2040.’

The study’s authors stress they are not proposing any changes in the existing split of responsibilities between Highways England and local authorities, ‘to avoid unnecessary upheaval, and to retain local accountability for the local authority roads on the MRN’.

Any potential transition has also been helped, in terms of new funding models, by proposals from the Government to put Highways England on a more stable financial footing by ringfencing vehicle excise (VED) duty to pay for the SRN. From 2020 Highways England is expected to be largely funded from a new National Roads Fund as a result.

Highways England could receive more than £5bn a year from vehicle excise duty in England – this is based on England’s share of VED for 2020/21 being estimated at £5.7bn, compared with £4.2bn for Highways England’s annual budget for 2019/20.

The study states: ‘Our analysis suggests that there could be headroom in such a National Road Fund to contribute towards local authority MRN roads – if, that is, Highways England’s annual budget beyond 2020 (in the second Road Investment Strategy period, RIS2) remains similar to the level planned for 2019/20 (the highest year in the first Road Investment Strategy period).

‘We have identified a possible surplus of £1.5bn p.a., which would go a long way towards meeting the needs of local authority major roads.’

Mr Quarmby told Transport Network: ‘This needs strong collaboration between local highways authorities and Highways England on a regional basis. This is where the devolution agenda comes in and the sub-national transport bodies (STBs) - the three prospective STBs Transport for the North (TfN), Midlands Connect, and England’s Economic Heartland - are already beginning to make this collaboration with Highways England easier and more effective.

‘The MRN is a natural focus for an STB exercising its roads planning function as it provides broader connectivity across the STB area than through the SRN alone. TfN has identified with their counties and unitary authorities what they are calling a Key Route Network for the area, closely based on the local authority parts of our MRN network in the north of England - and it links up with the KRN being developed in the combined authorities in the north.’

England’s Economic Heartland - stretching through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Befordshire onto Cambridgeshire and Peterborough - is set to meet on Friday (14 Oct) to discuss adopting the MRN principle as an ‘integral element of its future transport strategy’.

Mr Quarmby and representatives from DfT and Highways England will be in attendance as well.

Tony Ciaburro, corporate director for place commissioning at Northamptonshire CC, told Transport Network: ‘What we will be saying at the meeting is let's adopt this and integrate this into our transport strategy with a view to establishing England’s Economic Heartland as a potential testbed for the rest of the country. I will be arguing that we should adopt this approach in principle with a view to seeing what the implications would be.

‘It is a timely study and a good opportunity to benefit from a fresh pair of eyes. The study could help significantly in assisting us in assessing the priorities and allocations of funds.’

A tiered network 

The MRN concept is divided into three broad tiers of highway:

• Tier 1: limited-access: not restricted to motorways, and largely devoted to ‘movement’; these roads provide links between major urban areas and facilitate the highest average speeds;

• Tier 1A: limited-access – urban: with more frequent junctions and very heavy traffic flows, which need to be more subject to the wider transport policy framework and traffic management strategies set by the city or regional authority;

• Tier 2: multiple-access – rural: mainly all-purpose rural ‘A’ roads, with frontages and local access, providing links between secondary urban areas but also sometimes serving the ‘place’ needs of communities they run through; and

• Tier 3: multiple-access – urban: Major Roads in urban areas, with the greatest mix of user types and conflicting movements, and on some of which significant ‘place’ functions will need to be acknowledged.

Fit for Purpose

The study also outlines the starting point for potential perfomance benchmarks for the MRN:

• Fit for the user means understanding users’ expectations for a decent level of service – and then setting out to deliver on aspirations for the speed and time taken for their journeys, and their reliability and predictability. 

• Fit for communities and the environment means tackling noise, air quality and severance, and integrating mitigation measures into the ongoing management of the road and its traffic.

• Fit-for-purpose management means making the best use of capacity and the resilience provided by the network; exploiting technology to give road users the information they need to make better decisions; controlling traffic speeds and flows through the network; and, where possible, expanding capacity at pinchpoint locations to address shortcomings. The asset itself must be well maintained, following best practice, on a whole-life basis.

• The safety management regime for the network must be fit for purpose; this should include adopting over time predictive risk assessment to make the infrastructure safer and more forgiving.

• Fitness for purpose of major roads in cities and conurbations needs to reflect the more complex transport, planning and traffic management policies needed there, and the greater exposure and risk faced by vulnerable road users.

• A fit-for-purpose planning regime assesses performance against service level aspirations and other measures mentioned, and generates options for improvement or mitigation, to be evaluated for effectiveness and value for money

A new conference, Successful Regional Transport 2016, will debate and analyse how to make the most of the new sub-national transport agenda that will transform the sector from next year.

The event takes place at the Macdonald Hotel, Manchester on the 10 November 2016. Click here for the conference programme and to register now at the early bird rate

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