Highways England has denied the public was misled over a well publicised 80% resurfacing target that officials now suggest will not be met and was in fact ‘never the intention’.
Speaking at an event in Westminster, director of finance and business services at Highways England, Stephen Dauncey, defended his organisation but did not deny the real resurfacing figure for England's motorways up until 2020 could be closer to 50% as Transport Network understands.
The 80% resurfacing target was widely publicised in government material and boasted of by the prime minister in the House of Commons.
Mr Dauncey told Transport Network: ‘We have got a renewals budget with certainty of around £700m a year [between 2015-2020] that has to cover our whole renewals programmme.
‘We have competing priorities so we have to respond to the asset need as it comes a long. Certainly I don’t think we misled [the public]. We just have to look at that. In year one we delivered 10% more resurfacing than I think we had in our delivery plan, we have a four year renewal plan, which we will be sharing with the sector.’
The figure of £700m a year for highways renewals, including resurfacing, was contained in Highways England’s Delivery Plan published in March 2015 in advance of the launch of the government-owned company on 1 April last year.
It gives a total renewals budget of £3.658bn for 2015-2020, which includes investment in resurfacing work.
The Delivery Plan gave the target of resurfacing 1,200 lane miles in 2015-16. A Highways England spokesman said: 'We have completed almost 990 lane miles to date and are forecast to do 1,390 by the end of the year.'
However, in the Department for Transport’s July 2013 command paper, Action for Roads, which made the case for the transformation of the Highways Agency into Highways England, it stated: ‘To make sure that all of our network remains in good condition, we will invest over £6bn in a major programme of maintenance, as part of a wider £12bn programme, and will resurface 80% of the strategic network.’
Explaining how the 80% target came about, a senior Highways England source told Transport Network: ‘Years ago we put together a bid for pavement resurfacing. It was based on looking at the hot rolled asphalt that was coming to end of life and the thin surfacing that was coming to the end of life and the overlap of those things happening at the same time.
‘Somebody then asked: “How much of your network could you improve if that were all applied to a thin, very modest resurfacing?” We supplied the number 80%. It was not the intention to do 80% but that number has now built up apocryphal dimensions. It was never the intention.
'We are planning to do work on around about 50% of the network over that period of time up to 2020-21 and that 50% will not be a complete renewal of the pavement surface.'