Campaigners attack national 'scrutiny gap' between road and rail

 

Campaigners have accused the Government of allowing oversight of the Strategic Road Network to fall far short of what is applied to Network Rail.

The complaints come after a six-week over-run on a £6m Highways Agency scheme south of Chester.

The Highways Agency has deferred completion of the A55 and A483 pinch-point project until May, citing problems with the weather, drainage and bridge strengthening.

The delay creates significant congestion for drivers and freight vehicles every day, however road campaigners have complained the works have not made national headlines in contrast to the rail delays that affected fewer people and no freight around Christmas.

Difficulties at Finsbury Park and King’s Cross train stations lasted one day over the holiday period, and issues at Paddington only six hours yet resulted in several official reports, a rebuke from the transport secretary and Network Rail’s chief executive foregoing his bonus.

Luke Bosdet of the AA contrasted this with delayed motorists, suggesting they often had nowhere to vent their anger.

‘If it’s a local road project, the complaints go in to the MPs who then take the issue up. If it’s on a motorway, it’s much less likely to go to the local political representatives. There isn’t anybody really to complain to, other than perhaps writing letters to the Department for Transport,’ he said.

Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport also said there was a lack of accountability for highways works but closer scrutiny would follow the creation of the future Highways England.

In response, the passenger watchdog for the soon-to-be reformed Highways Agency has vowed scrutiny procedures will increase under the new regime starting in April. Passenger Focus - soon to be renamed Transport Focus - will represent the users of the strategic road network under the new Highways England body.

Speaking exclusively to Transport Network, Mike Hewitson, head of policy at Passenger Focus responded to complaints by vowing tighter scrutiny under the reforms brought about by the Infrastructure Act.

A spokesman highlighted that the Office of Rail Regulation will have a statutory role in monitoring the Highways Agency against a series of performance, cost and efficiency metrics, adding that ‘the presence of these targets and the publishing of regular performance reports against them will increase the degree and the transparency of scrutiny in the very near future’.

‘Our function is to represent the interests of users of the Strategic Road Network. We will be ensuring that the voice of the user is used in shaping policy and decision-making – the aim being to put users at the heart of the system,’ he said.

‘The more that investment and policy focuses on what the end-users want the better those services will be. We are keen to quickly understand as much as we can about road users. We have started this through research looking at the “needs and experiences of road users” and road users’ priorities for improvement.’

 

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