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ORR assesses that Highways England has met its targets but delays to large projects create future risks


The Office of Rail and Road’s (ORR) annual assessment of Highways England finds the company hit its performance targets in 2020-21, the first year (April 1 2020 to March 31 2021) of the second road period, but ORR warns of the need to address delays to some key projects and subsequent forecast underspends.

ORR’s annual report has found Highways England met all targets in its key performance indicators for providing fast and reliable journeys and maintaining the network – all achieved as the company faced a set of extraordinary circumstances with the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

At the end of 2020-21 the company achieved;

  • 98% network availability against a target of 97.5%;
  • cleared 88.6% of incidents within one hour against a target of 86%;
  • achieved an average delay of 6.7 seconds per vehicle mile, much lower than the baseline of 9.5 seconds per vehicle mile; and
  • reported that 95.2% of the road surface did not need further investigation for possible maintenance, against a target of 95%.

But ORR’s report also shows that although there has been good progress in delivering enhancement projects in year one, there have been delays to some large projects due to start work later in the road period.

These are due in part to planning delays, which ORR recognises is a complex issue, but there are significant risks remaining and ORR wants Highways England to focus on how these risks can be mitigated to make sure the remainder of the Road Investment Strategy is delivered on time and to budget.

ORR launched a joint review with Highways England to look at its capability to deliver enhancements, and the company has committed to providing ORR with a plan setting out how it will address recommendations.

ORR’s annual assessment also highlights that Highways England maintained a strong focus on safety, but it must continue to deliver on safety and specifically on the safety-focused changes to the smart motorway programme mandated by the Department for Transport.

Highways England is also being required to provide assurance to ORR, road users and to the wider public about how it will appropriately factor in the environment, support biodiversity, and lead on the broader decarbonisation of the road network in line with Government’s recently-published Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

ORR has pushed the company to set challenging targets in this area and will hold it to account to achieve those targets.

John Larkinson, Office of Rail and Road Chief Executive, said:

“Highways England, like many others this past year, faced a set of extraordinary circumstances, and it responded well – keeping the network open for the smooth flow of essential goods and people around the country.

“It has met all its performance targets; however, as traffic levels rise to pre-pandemic levels, Highways England must maintain its focus on road safety and we expect it to deliver on the safety-focused changes in the all-lane running programme.

“While there has been good early progress on delivering road schemes, we can see delays to starting some large schemes, as well as some significant underspends. Delays to delivery of these schemes also threaten Highways England’s efficiency and wider performance targets. We are in discussions with Highways England and expect it to take steps to address our concerns.”


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