Panel poses key questions about future roads spending

Media Relations Team, 17 January 2023

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A group of senior professionals has today published a report raising seven key questions for decision-makers to help guide them towards achieving the best value from future roads spending, in terms of economic, social, environmental and safety outcomes.

The group – the Road Investment Scrutiny Panel, comprising professors with a breadth of relevant expertise and experience – was formed last year prompted by the coming together of factors making 2023 a critical moment for decisions on road investment and expenditure more generally:

  • work underway to establish the third Road Investment Strategy (determining the spending plans for England’s National Highways network from 2025), and revise the National Policy Statement for National Networks (a key input to planning decisions)
  • huge financial pressures facing national and local government
  • live global concerns highlighted by both COP 27 (climate change) and COP 15 (biodiversity) in late 2022.

The report (‘Key questions for road investment and spending’) identifies seven important and pressing questions relating to: decarbonisation; biodiversity; health and social impacts; highway maintenance and optimisation; road safety; achieving value for money through consideration of alternative options for investment; and testing that investment decisions made are robust to a changing and uncertain world.

Key themes highlighted in the report include the need for:

  • road spending decisions to be coherent and stand up to scrutiny when viewed in the context of broader policy aims, most notably the statutory duty to achieve a net zero carbon economy
  • decisions to be well-informed both in relation to the existing road network and its use (including ‘connected’ vehicles generating data on driver behaviour such as patterns of harsh braking that could allow identification of locations posing road safety risks) and in terms of future possibilities in a changing and uncertain world
  • more transparency regarding how decisions were arrived at and the underlying analysis.

Commenting on the report, lead convenor of the group, Professor Glenn Lyons, of UWE Bristol, said: “In a world beset by global shocks and the climate and nature emergency, ensuring that we weigh the make-up and scale of our investment in roads and really think through how we want our roads to be used matters more than ever - money is tight and our roads perform a vital service, so we need our governments - nationally and locally - to get us the best bang for buck in delivering safe, efficient, environmentally sustainable and socially just travel.

“We’re not about standing in the path of worthwhile projects; our view is that many of the delays we have seen on recent road schemes could be avoided through a more robust and transparent demonstration of their consistency with the trajectory transport needs to follow to comply with our statutory duty to cut carbon emissions, as well as achieving our ambitions to foster enhanced biodiversity and improve our health and safety.”

The Panel’s work was funded by a grant from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. Its Chair of Trustees David Tarrant said: “The Founder of our charity, William Rees Jeffreys, was a leading light in the development of roads policy from the earliest days of motoring and was personally instrumental in driving up the quality of our highways to improve the safety and the travel experience for all road users (being, himself, a keen cyclist).

“Part of our work as Trustees is to promote a joined-up approach across a broad range of policy agendas with the aim of ensuring our roads work for us as effectively as possible, hence we were pleased to fund this initiative.

“This report poses a set of salient and timely questions that should challenge all our thinking when it comes to informing decisions about spending on roads.”

The full report can be accessed here.

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