Highways England’s latest plans will support 64,000 construction jobs, delivering over £27 billion of investment during the next five-year road investment strategy. In this blog we look at the commitments and how they match up to changes needed in infrastructure delivery.
The Strategic Road Network is the backbone of the road network in England, supporting almost 40 million vehicles annually. Entire sectors and communities depend on it for continued prosperity, meaning that upgrading and maintaining the network is essential.
Last week, Highways England published its strategic business and delivery plan for the second road investment strategy (RIS2), which covers the period 2020-2025.
£27.4 billion has been allocated over the RIS2 period covering 52 schemes, including:
- £14.2 billion for road enhancement schemes
- £10.8 billion for operations, maintenance and renewal schemes
- £1.1 billion to improve capability and invest in new technology
Some of the flagship projects include the Lower Thames Crossing, upgrading the A66 to create the first new Trans-Pennine dual carriageway since 1971, and improving the major direct route between the South East and South West with the Stonehenge Tunnel.
ICE and the Infrastructure Client Group’s recent Covid-19 White Paper recommended that public procurement and funding models should become more intelligent and outcomes-based, so that communities and businesses get the infrastructure that will deliver them the greatest social, economic and environmental benefits.
Highways England’s delivery plan goes someway to reflect this thinking, with almost £1 billion set aside for projects that will have wider benefits beyond road investment, and commitments to new procurement and delivery models.
The plans themselves were developed before the outbreak of Covid-19. While it is probably fair to assume that demand growth on conventional transport networks will remain significant in the future, if Covid-19 impacts on Highways England’s plans, these will be set out in annual updates.
The White Paper outlines that the business models for delivering infrastructure will need to change in order to ensure that investment is made efficiently and effectively. More specifically, the tools and approaches to ensure this change happens include the likes of off-site manufacturing, investment in digitalisation, wider adoption of enterprise-based delivery models, and outcome-based procurement models.
In its delivery plan, Highways England have committed to embed automated digital design, standardised products and methodologies, and off-site manufacturing into infrastructure delivery. Highways England also aims to deliver £2.23 billion of efficiencies during the RIS2 period.
In addition to this, all new smart motorway investment will be delivered through an alliancing model, increasing the potential for stable and repeatable delivery, aligning objectives and outcomes, reducing design costs and minimising construction time.
This includes the use of the Rapid Engineering Model, a digital application that uses data to automatically design an asset, allowing scheme options to be produced and assessed much faster.
Lessons from RIS1
ICE’s insights paper into lessons learned from the first road investment strategy (RIS1) highlighted that programme led to enhanced collaboration with the supply chain, new methods of procurement and a prioritisation of innovation and technology.
These successes have been continued through into RIS2, with the extension of Regional Delivery Partnerships and the alliancing model for smart motorway projects, as well as the application of lean construction principles on site.
While not specified in its entirety, some of the £936 million ring-fenced for investment outside of roads will be spent on an innovation fund. RIS1 saw £150 million set aside for this purpose, so further details on the fund and the types of innovation it will prioritise for RIS2 are required.