National Highways faces barriers to RIS 2 success


National Highways has generally delivered well for road users over the past year but faces continuing challenges with its big projects, its monitor has said.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published its annual assessment of National Highways, which says the government-owned company has delivered well against its financial and performance targets for 2022-23, but urges a continued focus on efficiency and managing inflationary pressures on its enhancements in the coming year.

The ORR reported that National Highways achieved the expected £776m of efficiency savings, adding that while it remains on course to meet its target of £2.1bn of efficiency during the second road period (RP2; 2020-25), it must continue to manage growing uncertainty in the next two years.

It noted that enhancements projects have continued to experience delays and cost increases in the last financial year, largely due to inflation, and legal challenges to its projects. ‘The company thus faces ongoing risks to the delivery of its enhancements for the remainder of RP2.’

National Highways did not meet its 2022 delivery plan goals for enhancements – missing one of its nine start of work (SOW) commitments and three of its 12 open for traffic (OFT) commitments. So far in RP2, seven schemes (two for SOW and five for OFT) have missed their commitments.

The expected cost of enhancements (schemes and other costs) for RP2 was £23.6 billion, although that was not all due to be spent during the period. This has since increased by 21%.

The Lower Thames Crossing scheme had the largest forecast cost increase, of £2.3on (39%) to £8.3bn. The ORR said the increase was partly driven by the impact of inflation, additional land requirements, development consent order-related costs and other operating costs.

The report does not include a detailed assessment of National Highways’ performance on safety. The ORR noted that it published its first annual assessment of safety performance on the strategic road network in December 2022 and said it will publish an updated safety report by December 2023 using the latest data due to be published by the Department for Transport in September 2023.

National Highways’ monitor did however report that it under delivered its planned renewal of concrete safety barriers by 21%, adding that while the renewal of safety barriers is funded in RIS2 as part of the major life extension renewals programme, the performance of barriers is unknown.

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