We already have Network Rail why not Network Road

We already have Network Rail, so why not Network Road?

The Government has committed to turning the Highways Agency into a “publicly-owned corporation” as part of its reform of the strategic road network. So, is the Government getting ready to sell the Highways Agency?

Billions of pounds are spent each year maintaining our roads during these austere times. It would not be unreasonable, indeed it would be prudent, for ministers to look at ways of reducing large areas of public expenditure, such as road maintenance. For this reason, the Highways Agency (HA) is under significant pressure to reduce the cost of oper­at­ing, main­tain­ing and improv­ing England’s motor­way and trunk road net­work. But will a more efficient Agency be enough to satisfy ministers, or is the forthcoming legislation a prelude for privatising the HA?

Government is struggling to rid us of the mill stone that is our huge national debt, yet the tension is that our roads need more investment. Even a non-highways expert can see that the state of our roads has been in significant decline for several years. Drastic situations call for drastic measures and, like it or not, privatisation of the HA would remove a lot of debt from the books.

I should make it clear that I have no personal preference for a private or publicly owned Agency – I believe in a strong mixed market – but I think I just caught a glimpse of the future where we could work to get the best of both worlds. It was a future where a significant proportion of our roads were run by private companies in order to secure the road improvements we need; a future where a huge expansion of toll roads was seen as sensible and accepted by the public; a future where capital investment in roads was not curtailed for political reasons; a future where executives of a “privately owned” Highways Agency were being quizzed over their substantial bonuses… Wait a minute, was that the future, or have I seen this somewhere before?

So what will happen next? Well, one thing’s for sure: there will be no talk of “Network Road”, expansion of tolls or “OffRoad” before the next election.

I for one will be watching this particular issue with great interest.

Basil Jackson

Basil Jackson

Managing Director at Vemco Consulting
VEMCO was established in 2012 by Basil Jackson, a chartered civil engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in local government. Designations: BEng, MSc(Eng), CEng, MICE, DMS Managing Director, Vemco Consulting
Basil Jackson


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