Concerns about affordability of roads strategy
Decisive action needs to be taken before the summer if optimal value is to be delivered from the Road Investment Strategy, which includes the upgrading of the A1 in Northumberland, the National Audit Office warned today.
The first Road Investment Strategy, which covers the five years between April 2015 and March 2020, is an important step towards better long-term planning of England’s strategic road network. But the speed with which it was put together has created risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money which could be carried forward into future road-investment periods.
In 2013, the Government committed £11.4billion of capital funding to improving motorways and A-roads during the first road period and the Department for Transport (DfT) planned the strategy in 17 months, in order to publish it before the May 2015 General Election.
As a result of this, the DfT selected projects without knowing whether they would be the best value and 54 of the 112 projects are currently scheduled to start in 2019/20, which could cause significant disruption to motorists.
According to the current timescales, work on dualling the two stretches of A1 between Morpeth and Felton, and Alnwick and Ellingham, would start in 2020, with the improvements north of Ellingham due to start next year.
So far, Highways England has completed six projects on or ahead of schedule and has started construction on a further 19, with 16 planned to be on or ahead of schedule.
It is now reviewing the portfolio of projects to improve value for money and has so far identified 16 projects which present a risk to value for money; some of these may be cancelled or delayed. There are also options to delay up to 19 to reduce the number of projects due to start in 2019/20. A spokeswoman confirmed that this would not affect the A1 in Northumberland, which is progressing as planned.
The National Audit Office has recommended that the DfT and Highways England should agree an updated delivery plan for the remainder of the road period, including a clear statement setting out the impact of this updated plan on any work undertaken in the next road period.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The Department and Highways England need to agree a more realistic and affordable plan if they are to provide optimal value from the Road Investment Strategy.
“Highways England has been working to address the risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money that were present in 2015, but we are now nearly two years into the five-year road investment period.
“Decisive action needs to be taken before the updated delivery plan is published in the summer if shortcomings in the current strategy are not to be carried over into future road-investment periods.”