Regulator launches investigation into National Highways over ‘dipped’ performance

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has announced an investigation into National Highways over concerns its performance has dropped.

The regulator announced yesterday (14 February) that in July 2023 it identified multiple “potential risks” regarding National Highways’ capital portfolio and asset-management strategy. It said some of those risks had since materialised and that the organisation’s performance had “dipped across several areas”.

National Highways is one year away from completing the Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) period, and part of the investigation will be around whether it has fulfilled its objectives over the five-year term.

The investigation will look into the causes of National Highways’ dip in performance and whether it has identified all the actions it needs to take to improve.

The ORR expects the investigation to last from February to April 2024. It will focus on National Highways’ capital portfolio work, the application of its asset-management strategy and policy, and how it delivers against specific performance criteria.

ORR director of planning and performance Feras Alshaker said the probe will look into the “appropriateness of the approach” taken by National Highways to set its annual delivery plans.

Alshaker added that the ORR will seek to ascertain how well National Highways’ day-to-day work helps it achieve its performance outcomes, and how the road body feeds lessons learned into future planning processes.

The regulator acknowledged that the individual concerns are “potentially manageable” but “the number and breadth of our concerns, the repetitive nature of many concerns, and the proximity to the end of the road period, means that we consider that a more formal approach to assessing National Highways’ performance is now appropriate”.

Some RIS2 projects in the UK have faced significant obstacles, pushing them into long delays and risking price upticks. For example, the £1.3bn upgrade to the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine route was delayed again last November after transport secretary Mark Harper postponed his planning decision on the project.

Meanwhile, a £250m job to upgrade road junctions around Derby is facing another legal challenge, just three years after earlier plans to develop the area were quashed in the High Court.

A spokesperson for National Highways said it will “cooperate fully” with the ORR and that it looks forward to receiving the recommendations.

“National Highways’ priority is connecting the country safely and reliably, delivering economic prosperity and a thriving environment,” the spokesperson added.

This year, the Department for Transport is due to publish its RIS3 investment strategy covering 2025 to 2030. Projects are set to prioritise maintenance and repairs rather than major new schemes.

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