National Highways publishes positive first-year report on progress towards net zero

National Highways makes positive start to cutting carbon emissions from England’s busiest roads.

National Highways says it has made a positive start to its goal of cutting carbon emissions from England’s busiest roads to net zero.   

One year on from the launch of its Net Zero Highways plan, the government-owned company reported it had already made “tangible progress” on the journey to net zero highways.  

Achievements recorded in the last year include ensuring that 100% of its own energy is sourced from renewable energy, converting 38% of its vehicle fleet to greener plug-in hybrid cars and using lower-carbon LED bulbs to light more than 16% of the strategic road network (SRN).   

Additionally, 93% of traffic officers have been trained to better support motorists with electric vehicles and freight platooning trials designed to lower emissions from HGVs have been completed on the network for the first time.  

National Highways has also established a new governance structure to drive the company towards net zero, with the appointment of a new director of environmental sustainability, a central carbon team and an executive board member all tasked with driving delivery of the new plan.   

The report is the first annual update to the company’s strategy – Net zero highways: our 2030/2040/2050 plan. It includes National Highways’ annual carbon footprint and new examples of carbon-cutting activities introduced by the company.    

The report said that the last 12 months had represented a “promising start” to the strategy while acknowledging that there was “still much to do”.   

The 4,300-mile SRN directly supports more than 64,000 jobs and delivers £314bn to the economy. National Highways said operating, maintaining and using the network does come at a cost, with the SRN being a major source of carbon emissions.   

It added vehicle emissions are expected to decline rapidly as electric power replaces petrol and diesel propulsion in the coming years. 

National Highways has a long-term vision to capitalise on the latest technologies and new ways of working to decarbonise the network as quickly as possible.  

Last year’s plan committed to cutting National Highways’ own corporate emissions to net zero by 2030, followed by maintenance and construction emissions by 2040 and those from road users by 2050.  

Steve Elderkin, director of environmental sustainability at National Highways, said: “Over the last year colleagues across National Highways and our supply chain have been turning this plan into a reality. 

“That’s what this requires; a huge joint effort across our industry, supported with the right policies. 

“I am encouraged because I see good decisions being made and we’re moving in the right direction. This has built the foundations of the programme that will deliver our targets, moving us forward as outlined in this progress report.”  

Other National Highways achievements include: 

  • National Highways remains on track to replace 70% of road lighting with LEDs by 2027, more than 16% are already upgraded.
  • Work is ongoing to start construction of the first totally net zero road enhancement scheme, with a series of pilot schemes being initially developed before the project starts by 2030.  
  • Low-carbon materials have been introduced by project teams as part of the shift towards zero carbon steel, cement, concrete and asphalt by 2040. 
  • Work is continuing to support the development of Project Rapid which aims to deliver £950m of electric car charging infrastructure at motorway service areas, including six high-powered chargers at each location by 2023.

Separately, the company has published its climate resilience report which sets out challenges to the SRN and the actions being put in place to address them.   

The report – Climate change and the strategic road network: Building resilience for a changing future – spells out the risks posed from flooding, landslips, high winds and extreme temperatures, which can cause road surfaces to soften and bridge bearings to expand.   

Actions being taken already to make the SRN more resilient include updating standards for drainage design and warm mix asphalt on road surfaces, combined with reviewing approaches to maintenance standards for pothole repairs.  

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