The next Road Investment Strategy has just been published, covering the period from 2020 to 2025 and promising £27.4bn of funding for the trunk road network - a level of investment not seen in decades. What's included, and what can we expect?
You'll have to forgive us for talking exclusively about England, because the Road Investment Strategies (RIS) are five-year periods in which Highways England are expected to complete a list of projects and other objectives handed to them by the Department for Transport. They don't apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, who set their own priorities. We explained the concept of the Road Investment Strategies in a 2017 blog post.
But the scale of the investment, and the volume of work expected in the next five years, is a whole order of magnitude beyond anything the UK has seen in many years, and bears a closer look.
Before we get in to it, it's possibly worth taking a moment to ask why this level of investment is coming along, and why now. One reason is that traffic levels on the trunk road network in England are climbing, and they're climbing at a far quicker rate than on other types of road. Another is that the network has sufferent underinvestment for several decades and has a backlog of maintenace work and improvement schemes that there is now the political will to address. A third reason is as a stimulus to economic growth.
The investment strategy is also tied up with all sorts of other Government policies, from the aim to build 300,000 new homes - all of which will generate new or changed journey patterns - to the aims for fewer people to be affected by road noise, for levels of pollution generated by road vehicles to fall steeply in the coming years, and for deaths and injuries on the roads to be reduced as close as possible to zero.
What's in and what's on
The main attraction in the RIS2 policy document is the list of road schemes that will be funded in this period, and which will start work by 2025 at the latest. Many will be completed before then. There are 55 new schemes announced as part of RIS2, though few are a big surprise, and most have been in planning or otherwise foreshadowed in some form over the last few years.
Included in those 55 are a number of Smart Motorway projects that have been separated out from the others: that's because of the Smart Motorway "stocktake" recently conducted by the Government. (We'll discuss it, and what it means for the motorway network, in another blog post soon.) The recommendations of the stocktake are going to mean changes for future Smart Motorway schemes and modifications to many that are already open. That's going to take time and money, and the strategy seems to be to ringfence all the Smart Motorway investment in RIS2 and then to reallocate it so that the stocktake's recommendations can be delivered. Highways England will then see which new schemes can still be taken forward in this RIS with the remaining funds. There's going to be another announcement later this year to set out the plan, so the inclusion of a Smart Motorway project here is not a guarantee.
Other than that caveat, the experience of RIS1 shows that while the list might be amended over the next five years, with some schemes delayed or replaced if there are difficulties in the planning process, we can expect the vast majority of these to go ahead as planned now that they are in the RIS.
|The North||A1 Morpeth-Ellingham dualling||Committed|
|A19 Down Hill Lane junction||Committed|
|A1 Birtley-Coal House widening||Committed|
|A66 Northern Trans-Pennine improvements||Committed|
|M6 South Lancaster J33a||Committed|
|A585 Windy Harbour-Skippool||Committed|
|M60 J18 Simister Island||Committed|
|A61 Westwood Roundabout||Committed|
|A5036 Princess Way||Committed|
|A628 Mottram Moor Link and A57 Link||Committed|
|M6 J19 improvement||Committed|
|M62 J20-25 Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
|M6 J21a-26 Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
|M56 J6-8 Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
|The Midlands||A46 Newark Bypass dualling||Committed|
|A38 Derby Junctions||Committed|
|M54-M6 Link Road||Committed|
|M42 J6 improvement||Committed|
|A46 Coventry Junctions||Committed|
|M40/M42 interchange Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
|The East||A47 North Tuddenham-Easton dualling||Committed|
|A47 Blofeld-North Burlingham dualling||Committed|
|A47 Great Yarmouth Junctions||Committed|
|A47 Thickthorn Junction||Committed|
|A47 Guyhirn Junction||Committed|
|A47 Wansford-Sutton dualling||Committed|
|A428 Black Cat-Caxton Gibbet dualling||Committed|
|A5 Towcester Relief Road||Committed|
|A120 Tendring/Colchester Garden Community||Committed|
|A12 Colchester/Braintree Garden Community||Committed|
|A12 Chelmsford to A120 widening||Committed|
|M11 new J7a||Committed|
|M25 J25 improvement||Committed|
|M25 J28 improvement||Committed|
|Lower Thames Crossing||Committed|
|A1(M) J6-8 Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
|The South and West||M5 J10 and Link Road||Committed|
|A417 Air Balloon dualling||Committed|
|A2 Bean and Ebbsfleet||Committed|
|A249 Swale Transport Infrastructure||Committed|
|M2 J5 improvement||Committed|
|M25 J10 improvement||Committed|
|A303 Amesbury-Berwick Down [Stonehenge Tunnel]||Committed|
|M3 J9 improvement||Committed|
|A303 Sparkford-Ilchester improvement||Committed|
|A358 Taunton-Southfields dualling||Committed|
|M27 J8 improvement||Committed|
|A31 Ringwood widening||Committed|
|A27 East of Lewes Package||Committed|
|A27 Arundel Bypass||Committed|
|A27 Worthing and Lancing Improvement||Committed|
|A30 Chiverton to Carland Cross||Committed|
|M25 J10-16 Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
|M3 J9-14 Smart Motorway||Subject to stocktake|
As smart as ever
There's been a lot of bad press for Smart Motorways in recent months, essentially forcing the Department for Transport into a reassessment (or "stocktake") of the whole concept, so it might be surprising that Smart Motorways continue to feature in RIS2. But this list of projects has been in planning for half a decade, and there's no realistic alternative to Smart Motorways where extra capacity is needed on congested motorways (or, perhaps more accurately, no appetite within government to find a realistic alternative). So despite their many detractors, they will continue to proliferate.
What's noticeable, though, is that there are just seven Smart Motorway schemes in RIS2. Two others have been delayed to RIS3, so they won't happen until after 2025 - but RIS1 contained more than 20 Smart Motorway projects. Not all of those happened: some were deferred and appear in the RIS2 list above, with work yet to start. But there's far fewer starting in the next five years than in the last.
Perhaps the DfT's enthusiasm for Smart Motorways is cooling off a little, and if it is, there's another feature of the policy that points the same way. RIS2 includes a list of schemes that are expected to happen in RIS3, but what's noticeable is that none of them are Smart Motorways. There's a few, though, that look for all the world like long-standing Smart Motorway plans with new names. Take a look:
- M1 Junctions 35A-39 Sheffield to Wakefield extra capacity
- M6 Junctions 19-21A
- M1 North Leicestershire extra capacity
"Extra capacity" is what you get from either widening or a Smart Motorway project, and if it's neither of those... then what is it? The M6 scheme doesn't claim to be anything at all. Possibly the DfT themselves don't yet know, but projects beyond 2025 are presumably at an early enough stage in the design process that they aren't tied in to the current Smart Motorway standard.
Not just new roads and upgrades
That headline figure of £27.4bn is the whole of Highways England's budget between 2020 and 2025, so of course it doesn't mean that there will be £27bn of road improvements in the coming years. It also has to cover day-to-day operations and maintenance of the existing network. In the last five years, Highways England have taken stock of a motorway network largely built half a century ago and have determined that the maintenance requirements are significant.
Up until a few months ago, you see, it was still being claimed that the Stonehenge Tunnel, planned for the A303, and the Lower Thames Crossing, a new tunnel between Kent and Essex, were special projects for which Treasury funding was yet to be announced. It's now clear that Treasury funding isn't forthcoming and (in a development that perhaps shouldn't be surprising) those two enormous projects must be accommodated within the admittedly commodious budget for RIS2.
Those two projects, definitively included on the list for RIS2, are now safe and can proceed. But between them they will demand about £7bn of funding. Two schemes, then, will claim almost a third of the available money for the next five years. No wonder some other things are going by the wayside.
An ever changing picture
RIS2 might be planned out in detail, but the next five years will see unexpected problems and shifting priorities as well as new road openings. We might not be tracking road schemes any more, but we will be keeping on top of things here on the blog, as the carefully sketched ideas in the RIS2 policy document are translated into the real world.
If it all goes to plan, we'll see you in the Stonehenge Tunnel in 2025.
A comprehensive review of the plans, good work.
It does however somewhat overlook the large elephant that's recently entered the room which appears intent to stick around for a while, namely SARS-CoV-2.
How the presence of said elephant will influence wider matters such as road policy is of course yet to be determined.
Yes, it's going to affect everything in some way, but the effects aren't yet predictable, certainly not at the level of detail where we can say what might happen to the schemes in RIS2. In writing this I assumed that, for now, it's enough to look at what is there, because that's the current policy, and if things change we'll come back and look again.
It would stick around to at most next year - after which most of everything will return back to full speed, if not higher.
In the meantime, the "emptiness" could be used to do project works. A lot of different projects that are well under way when the calamity strikes are actually being expedited since there's no need to work only at night or only when services are closed (since now most of everything is closed anyway).
Although it remains to be seen if any of the projects listed here could start soon enough for the closures to have any positive impacts.
Given the amount of national debt we will be in (I’ve seen statements saying that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will still be paying for this) when all this finishes, I can see a scenario where ALL new road building not actually in progress will be cancelled for at least 5 to 10 years and may be longer (as should HS2 by the way).
An interesting list - of course we're getting to the stage where the network *needs* improving. You can only delay it for so long, after all.
I've heard that york wants the hopgrove improvements to be brought forward.
All a bit unlikely now I would think, given the upcoming recession caused by the corona virus.
There are different standards of smart motorways ,eg Distance between refuges, vehicle detection systems. There is nothing about this and whether the existing smart motorways will be upgraded
All of that detail fell under the "Smart Motorways Stocktake", which was published earlier this year as a separate piece of work to the RIS2 announcement. We've had a blog post about it in planning for a while but what with one thing and another it hasn't happened yet! You can read the original document from the DfT here.
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- Road investment strategy: 2015-2020. Gov.uk, 1/12/14.
- Road Investment Strategy: for the 2015/16 – 2019/20 Road Period [PDF]. Department for Transport, March 2015.
- Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2): 2020 to 2025. Gov.uk, 11/3/20.
- Road Investment Strategy 2: 2020-2025 [PDF]. Department for Transport, March 2020.
- Photograph of construction work on the A14 is taken from an original by Highways England.
- Photograph of engineers climbing to access hatch is taken from an original released by Highways England.
- Artist's impression of Stonehenge Tunnel released under the Open Government Licence.