Background to the report

The strategic road network in England comprises more than 4,300 miles of motorways and major A-roads. These roads carry a significant amount of traffic and are an important way for people and goods to move around the country. The Department for Transport (DfT) plans improvements to these roads through periodic road investment strategies and sets the priorities for the strategic road network.

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Government introduced road strategies to allow longer-term planning and provide greater certainty to National Highways and its supply chain. DfT funds National Highways, which is responsible for the enhancement, renewal, maintenance, and operation of the strategic road network.

In March 2020, the government published its current, second, Road Investment Strategy (the second road strategy), running from April 2020 to March 2025, which outlined its intention to spend £27.4 billion on the strategic road network. Of this, DfT committed £14.1 billion to a complex and challenging portfolio of 69 road enhancement projects, almost double the £7.7 billion budget for the previous five years. Of these, 33 were deemed ‘nationally significant infrastructure projects’ requiring approval from the Secretary of State through a development consent order. This included nine ‘Tier 1’ projects that either cost more than £500 million and/or are novel, contentious, involve complex engineering work or detailed consultation with stakeholders.

In providing advice to DfT and National Highways in June 2019, Office of Rail and Road (ORR), said there were more large and complex projects in the portfolio than had opened for traffic in the previous five years. The first two years of the second road strategy took place in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From late 2021, significant changes were made to the delivery plan as it became clear that it could not be implemented as planned. DfT reduced the total number of projects that it requires National Highways to deliver by 2025. Separately, as a result of delays to projects, DfT reduced National Highways’ budget for road enhancements by £3.4 billion (27%).

Scope of the report

This report examines how effectively National Highways and DfT are managing risks to value for money across the portfolio of road enhancement projects. We based our assessment on our good practice guides to managing portfolios and programmes (Appendix One). We examine:

  • Why the portfolio of road enhancements could not be delivered as planned and whether National Highways has managed risk effectively to date;
  • Whether National Highways is now better placed to deliver the revised delivery plan; and,
  • Whether National Highways and DfT are taking effective steps to plan for the next road strategy and are implementing learning from previous road enhancements work.

We have not examined National Highways’ work on other parts of the second road strategy.

Report conclusions

National Highways and DfT took steps to assess whether their plans were deliverable but have nevertheless had to make significant changes to what was a challenging portfolio of enhancement projects.

By 2025 National Highways will have completed less work on road enhancements and at a higher cost than originally planned. Some change is expected when delivering a portfolio of projects, but there has been more change than anticipated. At the same time, National Highways and DfT could have done more to plan for and manage the potential risks to their portfolio of enhancement work. In recent months, inflationary cost pressures have risen beyond levels that could have been anticipated by National Highways and DfT, who will face difficult decisions about how to prioritise work.

National Highways and DfT should seek to improve the planning and management of their portfolio of enhancement projects to ensure they optimise value for the taxpayer, and avoid delays and costs further increasing the pressure on the next road strategy.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (25 Nov 2022)

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