Driving forward essential road improvements
A well maintained road network is critical to the economic productivity of the UK and our ability to be an attractive destination for businesses and holidaymakers. For this coming bank holiday weekend, it is predicted that over 14 million journeys will be made by car, with gridlock predicted across the country as the network struggles to cope with this extra demand.
Traffic data firm Inrix has calculated that congestion costs each motorist £1,168 a year, a huge £9bn annual hit to the economy. Though British people may be accustomed to queueing, the average driver spends 32 hours a year stuck in traffic; this is a tremendous waste of time and has a significant impact to the environment. The correlation between investment in road improvement projects and improved journey times is clear to see in Scotland’s major cities, where projects have reduced congestion by 20% in Aberdeen, 15% in Glasgow and 10% in Edinburgh. Scotland recently announced a series of City Region Deals, designed to deliver positive economic outcomes for Scotland’s regions. One key element of this is significant investment in transport infrastructure to encourage subsequent investment opportunities and regeneration. Local communities benefit from improved road infrastructure as new connections facilitate the construction of new homes and the creation of new businesses, as is the case in Perth where our partner Balfour Beatty is working closely with Perth & Kinross Council to upgrade junctions and deliver new link roads, unlocking land across the city for development.
90% of journeys are taken by road in the UK, and last year 327.1 billion miles were travelled on the road network, a 17% increase since 1997. As road usage continues to increase, this places increased pressure on an ageing and unloved system that often operates beyond its capacity. Our recently published Essential Infrastructure report found that in real terms construction output on the road network has stayed relatively consistent in the last two decades. In 1997, £3.79 billion of output was on road related infrastructure, this has increased to £4.16 billion in 2017 – a £2 per person drop from £66 in 1997 to £64 last year. At a time when road usage is still increasing it is essential that the country is seeing improvements on the ground.
The Government’s Road Investment Strategy 2015-2020 outlines a long-term plan to improve our road network, including £15 billion in investment during this time. This includes the delivery of an additional 1,300 miles of road that will help to alleviate some pressure on the network and reduce the amount of time motorists spend in traffic jams. A commitment to delivering the road improvements the country needs is promising, but we have to consider whether we will have the workforce needed to deliver these in the coming years. 7%, or 165,000 people in the construction industry are non-UK workers, and within the highways sector we are already experiencing difficulty recruiting the skilled workers that are needed to deliver our essential road infrastructure. Highways England estimates the need for an additional 12,000 people working across the strategic road network within the next four years, a 50% increase on the current workforce. At the seven month countdown to Brexit we need to address our skills shortage in this sector as a matter of urgency, the impact of not doing so has huge consequences on the UK’s ability to deliver the road improvement projects we have in the pipeline. If Government does not take this seriously, we run the risk of our road networks, truly grinding to a halt.
Mark RobinsonGroup Chief Executive
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