National Highways met its road investment strategy (RIS) targets in 2021-22, but its official monitor has raised concerns about three ‘critical’ areas of delivery, including traffic officer response times on smart motorways.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published its annual assessment of National Highways for the period between April 2021 and March 2022, which says that over the next year, the government-owned company must:
- improve its performance against its 10-minute response time on sections of all lane running smart motorway with emergency areas more than one mile apart;
- provide better evidence of how it is considering the long-term needs of its assets when making renewals decisions across the strategic road network (SRN); and
- provide a robust plan to meet its 2025 biodiversity targets.
On the wider issue of safety, the ORR said that National Highways delivered against its 2020 target to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on the SRN but that with traffic levels close to pre-pandemic levels, it has much more to do to meet its 2040 ‘zero harm’ goal to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on its network.
It added that it will need to see a robust plan from the company setting out how it will achieve this.
The ORR reported that National Highways has continued to deliver the Government's smart motorways action plan, ‘largely to time’. But it added that it was still short of achieving its target of a 10-minute average traffic officer response to live lane incidents on all lane running motorways with emergency areas more than one mile apart.
It said that while National Highways has made some progress in its asset management maturity and is currently achieving its asset management targets for RIS 2, it is yet to provide ORR with sufficient evidence that it is taking into account the long-term needs of its assets when making decisions about asset interventions.
The report states bluntly: ‘National Highways must urgently take steps to demonstrate compliance with its own policy. It must provide us with assurance that it is not compromising the long-term efficiency of its network or road user benefits when taking asset management decisions.’
The ORR described National Highways’ performance against its environmental targets as ‘varied’. Although it made good progress with its corporate carbon, noise, and air quality targets, its current plans indicate that without the identification of further interventions it will miss its biodiversity target.
The ORR said it has required National Highways to provide it with a robust plan that will achieve its 2025 target of no net loss in biodiversity.
The annual assessment also says that National Highways delivered its 2021-22 enhancements commitments, but there is more to do if the company is to deliver the full benefits and efficiencies of RIS2 on time and to budget.
National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said it would provide the ORR with additional reassurance in relation to ‘the small number of issues’ it had raised.
He said: ‘As the report rightly points out, we have made good progress on the majority of our main priorities over the last 12 months. This includes further improving the safety of our network, reducing our carbon footprint, providing fast and reliable journeys and delivering on the Government’s hugely ambitious second Road Investment Strategy.’