The second Road Investment Strategy was released shortly after Wednesday’s Budget. Here we take a look at what was included and how it stacks up against its predecessor.
ICE’s key budget takeway (below) was a need for more detail on key infrastructure pledges and as expected the sector will have to wait a little longer for the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS).
"More details needed," says Institution of Civil Engineers in response to Government's #Budget2020— ICE (@ICE_engineers) March 11, 2020
Responding to the Chancellor's Budget, Chris Richards, Head of Policy and Public affairs, said...#BudgetSpeech2020 pic.twitter.com/SLeeybT0O5
Yet it was a welcome surprise to see the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) published.
New investments in England’s main roads
RIS2 delivers £27.4 billion of investment for road projects on the Strategic Road Network (SRN) – the arterial network of motorways and A-roads in England.
The Government’s first priority is to “fix the strategic roads we have today” rather than an expansive road widening or building programme.
Of chief concern is the age of the network, with bridges, aqueducts, safety barriers and older designs of concrete pavement reaching the end of their life.
Building on the first Road Investment Strategy
ICE recently published an insight paper on the delivery of RIS1. It set out a need to improve delivery, preparation and the planning of projects, alongside the need for Highways England to enhance asset management and consider a wider set of value metrics in procurement.
RIS1 was implemented without an effective timeframe in which to plan. As a result, the programme changed mid-way meaning that only 29 of 112 planned major projects were completed by 2019.
The Government have recognised the shortcomings of a lack of planning. The Infrastructure Act 2015 sets a formal process for planning future road periods and projects are already being developed for RIS3.
RIS2 sets out a smaller number of projects, which means there is a more manageable programme of works aided by a decision to use lean techniques to improve management and efficiency.
An updated asset management plan is also outlined. The importance of improving expertise in this area is highlighted by the focus on renewing older sections of the SRN, a problem which wasn’t fully realised until recently. For example, the full need for the M5 Oldbury Viaduct repairs were only revealed after routine pothole repairs.
Highways England’s innovation-led approaches to procurement have been effective and they plan to continue in this vein. They have also committed to consider whole life impacts of decision making on road investment. Full support for the Stonehenge Tunnel recognises that environmental and social considerations need to be considered alongside economic ones.
The need for a joined up plan
ICE has previously argued the importance of planning infrastructure projects and investments in a joined-up way.
Investment in good, strategic infrastructure can unlock growth, improve the UK’s resilience to climate change and boost productivity, but it takes time to plan and implement well.
RIS2 recognises this in narrow terms, with a commitment to work in partnership on housing and productivity priorities and improve integration within transport as a sector.
However, it is short sighted that the strategy doesn’t mention the NIS or have a plan to respond to it when it is eventually published.
Roads are critical to the operation of other infrastructure sectors. When the road network fails it can cascade and affect other sectors.
Transport will also be affected by new technologies and changing patterns of behaviour. For example, de-carbonisation will require new energy capacity and connections. Connected and Autonomous Vehicles will need always on telecoms networks.More rail use, greater sharing of vehicles or higher use of public transport will affect the how, where and what of road investment need.
Long term investments require a long-term vision. If RIS2, and future strategies for other sectors, are to truly connect the nation we must have joined-up thinking. The NIS will be critical to making this happen.