Highways Agency reform in a year but there may be risks to programme

Announcement of legislation in the next Parliament to convert the Highways Agency into a government owned company within 12 months is expected in the Queen’s Speech in June.

But the one year timescale might prove ambitious if the HA legislation is wrapped up in a wider Infrastructure Bill including controversial new planning rules for fracking and onshore wind farms which some officials believe is an option.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced last week that he had approved reform of the Highways Agency into a business backed by stable, locked-in funding that  “will eliminate the uncertain stop-start proceses of the past.”

DfT strategic roads director John Dowie on the industry challenge ahead: "Around three years from now in particular there will be a step change in the amount of work the UK’s roads industry will be required to deliver.  Nothing is likely to frustrate this opportunity more than the inevitable cost pressure price increases that would result if the sector tried to deliver the programme with existing resources and traditional ways of working." Infrastructure Intelligence 12 February John Dowie is speaking at the ACE annual conference on 21 May. More here

“In less than 12 months the Highways Agency will be transformed into a government-owned company tasked with managing and operating England’s motorway and strategic A-road network,” McLoughlin said.

 “The department will now work to introduce the legislation needed to underpin these changes and plans to bring the new company into operation in April 2015.”

According to officials, current Government thinking is that with only a year left in the life of this Parliament, one Bill embracing various infrastrucuture proposals would make best use of the time available. However opponents of one or more aspects of such a Bill could derail the programme and jeopardise broadly supported Highways Agency reform.

Changes to the Agency would save the taxpayer £2.6bn over 10 years, government said with the new company and its suppliers having the confidence to “recruit skilled workers on longer-term contracts that will save the taxpayer money”.

Two new bodies will be set up to hold the company to account – one to protect the interests of motorists and other road users through Passenger Focus; and one to watch over costs and performance via a discrete unit within the Office of Rail Regulation.

For the first time a “Road Investment Strategy” to be produced by the end of 2014 will detail the performance standards the company will achieve and an investment to be delivered over the next five years.

Creation of the new government’s roads company would “put in place the sructures, commitments and relationships to support a more ambitious infrastructure programme,” roads minister Robert Goodwill said.  

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