The next Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) is ‘the biggest game in town’, with up to £4bn annual capital spending on the strategic road network, Highways England's chief executive has said.
Giving the opening keynote speech at Traffex this week, Jim O'Sullivan said: ‘RIS2 is quite frankly the biggest game in town. People are starting to talk about investment in the major road network, as well as the strategic road network. People are already engaging in the control period from 2020 to 2025.
'So the changes we have delivered and are continuing to deliver and want to make into the future are huge. This is the big thing. We have started serious work on the next control period 2020 to 2025. We are socialising a number of about £4bn of capital.’
Highways England chief executive Jim O'Sullivan
He stressed that this was not yet a fixed or agreed number: ‘We are asking: can we afford it? We are asking: can the network withstand it, can we do that much work on our road network at the same time? We are asking the supply chain if they can deliver it.’
He added: ‘We would like to see that [spending] flat across the five years.'
On the achievements of the Government-owned company since it was created in 2015, Mr O’Sullivan said: ‘Two years ago we were saying we need to do what it says on the tin. We are now in a place where we are doing what it says on the tin.
‘In terms of delivery, we have opened all the schemes that were expected – on time. We’ve started work on all the schemes we are supposed to have started work on.’
Mr O’Sullivan also highlighted improvements in safety and customer service. He said Highways England’s investment programme, has on average had a benefit cost ratio of 2.5.
‘What that means is that for every pound of government money that we invest, two pounds fifty goes into the economy and of that two pounds fifty probably about half of it goes back to the Treasury.’
‘What’s not to like in that investment case?’ he asked.
Mr O’Sullivan cited the recent opening of a new £192m stretch of the A556 in Cheshire, noting that Highways England’s targeted journey time saving was 10 minutes. But he said: ‘Some commuters were telling me it was saving me as much as 20 minutes on their commute time in the morning. So we know these roads make a difference.’
He added that recent feasibility studies show that Highways England is ‘starting to look even longer term’.
‘Things like the A1 north of Newcastle. I think there’s a long- term ambition to see that dualled throughout its length. The economic case isn’t great but we are starting to do the strategic study as to how you might go about that, what timescale you might do it over,’ he said.
On the designated funds within the current RIS that are set aside for issues like housing and growth, the environment, safety and vulnerable users, Mr O’Sullivan said: ‘I’m a great advocate of us having a pot of money which has to be used for these social and environmental causes and I’d like to see that perpetuated into RIS2.’
He encouraged people to lobby himself and ‘the people who have a say over these things’ to make sure that this approach is maintained.
Mr O’Sullivan said integration with other aspects of the transport network and devolution were two big challenges for the future.
In a ‘Brexit context’, he said Highways England was looking to smooth the transport journeys of big exporters like Land Rover and JCB to the ports.
Summing up, he said that while Highways England has undergone a huge change and has a lot to be proud of, he would not claim that it is ‘the finished article’ or ‘even halfway there’. He concluded by saying that 2020 to 2025 is ‘the next big step’.
The next two years will be focussed on continuing to do what Highways England has done and making sure that RIS2 ‘better meets the needs of the nation, better meets the needs of our stakeholders and not just our road users, and better meets the needs of government and our supply chain’.