By Max Clarke

The Government lacks a strategic vision for the UK road network, despite the positive progress it has made on a National Infrastructure Plan and broader transport policy, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said today.

Speaking at the Highways Term Maintenance Association’s annual conference, Dr Neil Bentley, CBI Deputy Director-General, said investing in roads benefits the economy, underlining the significant return on investment for big infrastructure projects.

The strategic vision for our roads must start with a National Policy Statement on road and rail, and a full review of the Highways Agency.

Dr Bentley called on the Government to unlock the full potential of private capital and innovative finance mechanisms, including tax-incremental financing (TIF) schemes, to support investment in our road network. He also called for a debate on road charging.

The speech comes a year after the publication of the CBI’s report Tackling congestion, driving growth — A new approach to roads policy. Dr Bentley gave his assessment of progress made.

“Instead of a strategic vision, we have a policy of make-do and mend. £200m of investment in tackling potholes is welcome and vital to fix roads up and down the country, but it will not deliver the network-wide improvements we need,"
said Dr Bentley.

“The lack of vision is tying us to a roads policy that is tentative, unplanned and — in the view of CBI members — consistently falling short.”

Citing official estimates that road congestion costs UK businesses £8bn a year, a figure set to double by 2025 when road traffic will have increased by a third, Dr Bentley said:

“The Government’s Plan for Growth, published with last month’s Budget, confirmed £30bn of transport investment over the next five years. We are pleased the Government has learnt from the long-term consequences of previous recessions and opted not to cut capital investment in transport completely.

“But the Government’s spending commitments need to be accompanied by a clear vision for the major road network. So we repeat our call for a national transport policy statement for our road and rail network to be delivered as a matter of urgency."

Welcoming the recent announcement of a review of the Highways Agency, Dr Bentley added:

“We need to see an independent and strategic Highways Agency able to deliver better outcomes for road users and support private-sector investment in the road network. The Agency currently has limited strategic powers and no direct influence over its long-term objectives and funding.”
On private capital and road charging, Dr Bentley said:

“Private finance has already delivered many successful transport projects in the UK, using a range of public-private partnership models, including PFI. These can continue to play a major role in modernising the road network.

“Road charging can form part of this investment picture — using tolls at a local level to allow additional investment in new strategic road links or in additional lanes at congestion pinch points. We need to open the debate on road charging, discuss the issues openly, look at examples internationally, and understand the impact of changes on freight and passenger traffic.”