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Large difference in regional performance of roads revealed

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Differences in the regional performance of Highways England roads have been revealed in a new report from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

It shows that nationally the average traffic delay in 2019-20 was nine seconds per vehicle mile, but there was a difference in average delays of three seconds per mile (38%) between the region with the highest level of delays (South East) and the region with the lowest level of delays (South West).

User satisfaction also varies significantly across Highways England’s regions. National user satisfaction was 89% in 2019-20, slightly below the 90% target, but regional levels ranged from 93% in Yorkshire and the North East to 85% in the North West.

Nationally, there was a gradual reduction in maintenance spending during the first road period (RP1 - 2015-2020). However, there were again regional variations, with the Midlands region having the highest average spending per lane mile – 17% more than the South West.

The evidence of regional differences is provided in ORR’s Benchmarking Highways England: 2020 Progress Report, which examined Highways England’s performance across: Yorkshire and the North East, North West, Midlands, East, South East and South West of England regions against key metrics including user satisfaction, network availability, incident clearance, average traffic delay and road condition.

Variation across regions may be explained by differences in network characteristics, particular circumstances faced by a region, or differences in approach or performance.

The ORR, which is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the performance and efficiency of Highways England, says it will be requiring it to provide better cost and spending data at regional level in respect of operations, maintenance, and renewals to provide greater transparency and help to better understand whether differences over time and between regions reflect more efficient delivery.

Graham Richards, director of planning and performance at the Office of Rail and Road, explained: “Our benchmarking report paints a generally positive picture of Highways England’s regional performance over the last five years but it is also important to understand differences and variations across the country. This can help identify further opportunities to improve performance and efficiency.

“As more data becomes available our benchmarking and scrutiny of Highways England will evolve. Over the coming year we plan to broaden our work and look more specifically at road condition comparators, as this is important for road users.”

In terms of clearing incidents, Highways England was set a national-level target to clear 85% of motorway incidents within one hour and it met this target in each year of RP1.

In 2019-20, Highways England cleared 89% of motorway incidents within an hour, a three percentage point improvement from the start of RP1 (86%) and four percentage points above its national-level target.

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