In less than a year, the government’s Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) will commence.
Starting in April 2020 and running for five years, this investment period will deliver important road schemes set out by Highways England and the government.
Continuing the work from the inaugural Road Investment Strategy, the investment will be more than ever before, eclipsing the previous £15 billion funding by more than £10 billion.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will play an integral part of the delivery of RIS2; a review of Highways England’s plans will be published later in the year.
The organisation’s Head of Economics and Policy, David Hunt, explains the monitoring work that is taking place and how the ORR is working with Highways England to ensure success during RIS2.
This is an excerpt of the full interview that will be published in issue 9 of Transport Britain.
Can you give our readers some information about Road Investment Strategy 2? How does this differ from the first Strategy?
In many ways it’s a continuation from RIS1, so we’ve still got in place a commitment for five years of funding, which is a really important thing for Highways England to plan long term.
Highways England have to get on with the day job in RIS2, as they are in RIS1. They still have to go out and fix potholes, renew roads, fix bridges, and do their day-to-day business. They still have a significant number of new schemes that are a hangover from RIS1, where most of the cost is incurred in RIS2. There are big transformative schemes put forward in RIS1 which are only due to start at the end of that period, but will largely be built in RIS2.
In terms of the investment and how it’s looking at the moment, there is a bigger budget because more needs to be done; bigger schemes are being put forward by government and Highways England, albeit bear in mind the decisions on the schemes to be taken forward haven’t been made yet.
The other thing in the background is the road network is ageing, so things they have to do in RIS2 will be different than RIS1; certainly there are a number of concrete roads built in the 50s and 60s that are beginning to get old. To maintain good quality roads for drivers, more needs to be done in those areas.
Our role is a bit different; RIS1 was done in quite a hurry. I don’t think anyone will deny that, and it was a significant challenge. We’ve learnt these lessons for RIS2.
I think more generally the government has taken more time this time around to get things right, and really try and avoid the issues we had in RIS1 when schemes had to be re-planned because they were put together in such a hurry that they weren’t going to deliver what users wanted.
In some cases, some of the schemes offered lower value for money than first thought, so they were changed.
The government and Highways England are trying to learn that lesson, we’re trying to learn that lesson in terms of how we do our job, and RIS2 is a set of different workstreams that have been taking place for four years now, so it’s had a long run-in.
How has the cost changed for different funding periods?
There is quite a big increase; in autumn, the government published their objectives for RIS2, which included a grant number for £25.3 billion. That does reflect that a lot of big commitments in RIS1 will only really take effect in RIS2.
How important is that collaborative approach when putting these strategies in place, and approaching difficult discussions?
Highways England would be the first to admit they are a maturing organisation and don’t have all the answers. There are often challenging discussions that need to be had but we do it in a way where it’s pretty clear our objectives are that we want Highways England to succeed, we want RIS2 to be delivered efficiently for those who use it and pay for it.
We’re not here to catch people out or inappropriately challenge them on things. But it is important to hold them to account, so it is a bit of a balancing act. Because Highways England are quite willing to look at themselves with realism on where they are good and not so good, and whilst we’ve had challenging conversations and will continue to do so, it hasn’t affected our professional relationship with them and they do continue to be open to working with us.
An adversarial approach might work short term but in the long term it really doesn’t, and you don’t get that willingness to learn together and deliver better outcomes for the people you are trying to serve.
It can be a challenge and it’s an important one to get right.
What challenges have you encountered during this process?
Focusing on the process for RIS2, it’s the first time that full process has been enacted. Highways England’s licence sets out a few steps but how it works in practice is much more sophisticated. Highways England, DfT and Transport Focus have had to put a huge amount of effort into it. There’s no two ways about it.
It’s been a massive learning process for all of us but has been necessary to get us into a better position for RIS2 than RIS1. The work that has happened delivers a much better product, much more sellable product because of the evidence sitting behind it.
What we’re keen to do is capture and repeat what we’ve learnt and things that have worked during future road periods.
We have had numerous rounds of evaluation of where we’ve got to, as part of sitting on DfT’s programme board. There’s a lot of working back to see what has worked well and what hasn’t. Now that we have worked through this and got to a point where we have met the deliverables we have put in place and at some point in the near future we’re going to be able to sign off a new Road Investment Strategy, we’ll look back with a manual to say this is how you do it and how you don’t do it.
When we look at this in the cold light of day, it has been successful and the role we’ve played has moved things on.
Then we move into a phase of this is the usual monitoring of where we’ve got to, rather than changing the processes to get RIS2 up and running.