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Greening the Strategic Road Network: how is Highways England spending the money?

Back in 2014 we joined other environmental groups in calling for up to 30% of the Highways Agency budget to be set aside for a green retrofit: reducing the impact of our roads without expanding capacity and increasing traffic.

With your backing, we achieved ring-fencing of about £500 million of the £15bn Road Investment Strategy (RIS) to help reduce the impact of existing roads on the environment and local communities.  We think good green projects should become part of the normal way of working for Highways England in any future road plans.

The designated funds were announced as part of the Road Investment Strategy in 2014, they include money set aside for work on air quality, cycling, access, and the environment:  other funds cover innovation, housing and growth, bringing the total to £900M.

These ring-fenced capital funds should be spent on projects that go beyond 'business as usual'. For example, the funds should not go on routine maintenance or necessary safety measure.

Highways England has indicated that some of the money could be spent outside the boundary of the Strategic Road Network, as long as it delivers the fund's goals.

We are engaging with Highways England and working with other environmental groups to ensure there is transparency on how the funds are spent.

And while we are glad to be part of the conversation, we'll continue to challenge Highways England to allocate these public funds where they will do most good.

That means addressing the environmental damage of existing roads, not simply building shiny new roads with an improved image.

So how is the money spent?

Fund allocations (2015/16 - 2020/21)
Fund £million
Air Quality 100
Cycling Safety, Integration 250
Environment 300
Housing & Growth 100
Innovation 150

One thing we are keen to see is clear information on how the funds are working in practice. There's no overall report of how the funds have been spent, yet.

Highways England are due to produce a strategy and action plan for each fund theme, to cover the period 2015-2021.

Most of the funding will be allocated in the later years of the programme once strategies are in place and we're promised annual progress reports.

This is public money, plus there should be some good news to share: it's in everyone’s interest for Highways England to report this spending in full in future.
 
Here's what we know so far:

Air quality (£100M)

  • Air quality action plan – not yet published, was due March 2016 
  • Focus expected to be on HGVs, junction improvements, air quality monitoring and ULEVs
  • Green retrofit potential? We want to see practical measures to combat lethal air pollution today. Relying on future uptake of electric cars isn’t good enough.

Cycling (£100M)

  • Cycling strategy January 2016
  • Focus on better planning for cycling, improved cycling facilities.
  • Annual Cycling Report starting in 2017
  • Green retrofit potential? Good, provided cyclists & potential cyclists are listened to.

Access, safety & integration (£150M)

  • Accessibility strategy May 2016
  • Focus on improved crossings and safety for non-motorised and disabled road users 
  • Annual Accessibility Reports, starting in 2017
  • Green retrofit potential? Lots, including ‘green bridge’ crossing points, and better connections to public transport.

Environment (£300 M)

  • Biodiversity plan June 2015 - £30M to deliver “no net loss of biodiversity by 2020”.
  • Focus on better management of the road network and new habitat creation
  • Environment strategy  April 2017 - £225M for “a strategic road network working more harmoniously with its surroundings to deliver an improved environment.” 
  • Focus on tackling noise, water quality & drainage as well as wider biodiversity and landscape impacts
  • Green retrofit potential? The biggest of the funds: we want to see it live up to its ambition in practice.

Housing & Growth (£100M)  

  • Guidance to LEPs November 2015
  • Focus on connecting sites for new homes and jobs, must be match-funded by developers.
  • Green retrofit potential? Limited: this is about link roads and junctions for new developments, often on greenfield sites.

Innovation (£150 million)

  • Green retrofit potential? Not the fund’s focus although work on Ultra Low Emission Vehicles and new low-noise road surfaces is welcome.