Highways England has been formally appointed to be the strategic highways company from 1 April 2015, with responsibility for managing the motorway and trunk road network.
Transport minister John Hayes made the announcement to the Commons alongside publishing more details on the scrutiny and targets the new government-owned company, formed out of the Highways Agency, would be subject to.
These were included in the licence under which Highways England will operate, which sets out the secretary of state’s statutory directions and guidance to Highways England, and the latest Roads investment strategy (RIS) document.
Mr Hayes said the licence makes clear 'what we expect Highways England to achieve and how they must behave in discharging their duties and in delivering our vision and plans for the network, set out in the ‘Road investment strategy’.
‘We expect the company to engage with road users and collaborate with other organisations to develop shared solutions. They must take a lead in promoting and improving the role and performance of roads in respect of broader communal responsibilities, such as safety, the aesthetics of design and the environment, as well as driving forward progress on technology and innovation.’
One of the immediate challenges Highways England will have to face is a suite of Key Performance Indicators and secondary performance indicators outlined in more details in the RIS document.
Over the next five years the first RIS will see £15.2bn invested in over 100 major schemes to enhance, renew and improve the network. While ensuring this delivery, Highways England must also ‘maximise lane availability so that it does not fall below 97% in any one rolling year and ensure at least 85% of all motorway incidents are cleared within one hour’.
Since 2011, availability has varied between 98% and 99% on the strategic road network excluding unplanned incidents. A lane is considered unavailable if it is closed to traffic because of planned roadworks.
The company will also have to ‘work proactively to find innovative ways to improve safety’ government officials warn, if it is to meet the ‘stretching’ target of a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured against the 2005–09 average baseline by 2020.
New metrics for measuring the condition of road assets will also have to be developed. At present, the only well-developed asset condition metric available is the Network Pavement Condition (NPC) indicator, which will be used from 2015/16 – 2019/20.
The NPC requires ‘the percentage of the Network that needs no further investigation for possible maintenance, and we require the percentage to be maintained at 95% or above’.
Highways England will be required to produce new enhanced condition metrics for all the main asset classes – pavement, structures, technology, drainage and geotechnical works - the quality and completeness of supporting asset information, the residual asset life, and asset performance.
‘This work should be phased with enhanced condition metrics for pavements and structures being available by 31 March 2017, and then validated over the following two years. Other new enhanced condition metrics for technology, drainage and geotechnical work should be validated by 31 March 2020,’ the RIS states.
Highways England will be monitored by the Office of Rail Regulation and passenger watchdog Passenger Focus to be renamed Transport Focus.