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Road infrastructure fails to meet the needs of a modern economy, Logistics UK says

Roads play a vital role in the logistics industry, and the wider UK economy, keeping shelves stocked, supply chains protected, schools and hospitals supplied.

They carry eight out of ten total freight movements by tonne-kilometres. Even with the industry’s efforts to accelerate the modal shift away from road freight to other modes of transport to meet decarbonisation targets, roads will remain the primary means of moving goods for the foreseeable future.

However, the nation’s current road infrastructure is not fit for purpose, according to Jonathan Walker, Head of Cities and Infrastructure, Logistics UK.

“The national road infrastructure, on which the industry relies, does not currently meet the needs of a modern economy,” he argued, “with a lack of driver facilities, outdated technologies and significant ‘pinch points’ of high congestion and low capacity all acting as barriers to the flow of goods across the country.”


The 4,500 miles of motorways and major A-roads in England currently carry a third of all traffic and two-thirds of all freight.

“As the main connection link within the country, the road network requires constant investment, maintenance and improvement to ensure it is fit for purpose and sustainable,” Walker said, “As the country faces significant environmental and financial pressures, it is vital that road investment is scrutinised and assessed as to whether it is providing value for money and delivering for the economy.”


In March 2020, government published its Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2), running from April 2020 to March 2025, which outlined its intention to spend £27.4 billion on the strategic road network. The Department for Transport (DfT) committed £14.1 billion to 69 road enhancement projects, but the budget was later reduced by £3.4 billion and the total number of projects that DfT requires National Highways to deliver by 2025 was decreased. As government and National Highways prepare their next five-year investment strategy from 2025-2030, focus is now solely on how effectively money has been spent during the current strategy period.


Following an evaluation through the National Audit Office report, which found that National Highways’ 2020-25 spending programme (RIS2) will deliver fewer schemes than planned at a far higher cost than intended, Parliament’s Transport Committee launched an inquiry to see what lessons can be learned ahead of the next five-year period.

“Logistics UK has engaged with this enquiry, providing both written and verbal evidence to the Committee, stating that it is essential government sticks to its commitment to developing a national freight network,” Walker said, “This will require government constructing a detailed thorough approach to policies affecting the network and considering how to connect our key freight hubs, industrial and population centres and busiest routes.”


Having supported the ambition of RIS2 in seeking to address many of the concerns of the logistics industry, it is inevitably a major disappointment for industry that the programme will fall short. While a number of factors leading to delays and cost overruns for these enhancements are beyond the control of National Highways, these factors were compounded by deficiencies in risk management. The net result of this has been a significant reduction in the number of completed schemes compared to what the logistics industry would have expected.  


As the industry looks ahead to the next five-year strategy, there is a clear need for a more effective and efficient process around the planning of major enhancements to ensure schemes can move swiftly from concept to delivery.

“A relentless focus on moving schemes through the planning system will be needed for the long term to avoid further delays to programmed enhancements,” Walker said, “It is also vital that each short-term investment plan is part of a longer-term vision for the future of our infrastructure networks.”


Logistics UK has called for the development of a 30-year plan owned jointly between the government and logistics sector to deliver a national freight network, including all transport, warehousing and other facilities, so that businesses can invest with confidence.

“The delays in the RIS2 pipeline must not be seen as a reason to reduce the scale and/or scope of the next roads investment strategy,” Walker said, “With inflation running high in recent months, difficult choices will undoubtedly need to be made and wherever possible, government’s focus needs be on speeding up the delivery of enhancements, rather than curtailing ambition and hindering the growth of our industry in response.”


Published On: 20/04/2023 16:00:00


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