Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Build on

Mood music coming from Tory MPs lobbying for new dual carriageways in their various parts of the country suggests that the the five-year programme known as RIS2 will be announced by the Government before the end of the month.

In theory, some £23bn is available, taken from Vehicle Excise Duty income. It seems roads may not have got entangled with other infrastructure promises made by the Conservatives. Selfishly, we hope it's the North and Midlands that get investment in new roads that they don't really need....

Friday, 3 January 2020


The activity of politics attracts people who think they're clever.

Many politicians claim the result of the 2016 referendum was flawed, because people simply didn't understand what they were voting for. At the end of 2019, it may be that people who voted for Boris Johnson didn't really understand they were getting Dominic Cummings.

Dominic has posted a blog inviting emails from very clever people, data scientists, economists, communications and policy experts, project managers, researchers, and "weirdos and misfits with odd skills" to join him at the heart of government.

It's an article bursting with forward-thinking about artificial intelligence, machine learning, physics, chaos theory and more.  Yet the only specific project mentioned is, wait for it, a road. He wants to recruit 'legendary builders' who work at speed: "If you think you are such a company and you could dual carriageway the A1 north of Newcastle in record time, then get in touch!".

This gives an unpleasant edge to Dom's quest for brilliant thinking. It exposes our hero as an impatient, entitled, local resident, who just wants this bloody road done. (Dom's family own a farm just south of Durham, on the Darlington Road). Most intelligent project managers will tell you that speed of construction and money go hand in hand.

The idea of dualling the A1 between Newcastle and the Scottish border started in the 1930s. In the 1970s, sections around and to the north of Newcastle were dualled over a 15-year period. Further north there were some bypasses and junction improvements, but all largely sticking to single lanes. There was more dualling in 2003 and 2004; other schemes were dropped in 2006 for lack of funding. In 2011, the route was declared one of national strategic importance, meaning future funding would come from central government. Road building had moved from simple policy, to a quest for value-for-money, and that has dogged the project - many would argue quite rightly.

In 2002, a 'multi-modal study' declared there was no economic justification for further dualling. In January 2017 Transport Secretary Chris Grayling promised to dual the lot; the route is some 59 miles long; 23 miles are dual carriageway, with 36 miles of single carriageway.

In 2015, the Department for Transport said that dualling north of Berwick was of 'low economic value', but the southern section could be improved - the justification was 'future traffic growth', and a low take-up of rail services. There are 86 trains every weekday from Newcastle to Edinburgh, taking 1hr and 35 minutes, and starting at around £25 single - advance tickets £10.90. The car journey, of 120 miles takes over two hours - estimated petrol cost £23.12.

 In 2018, Highways England produce a scheme to upgrade 13 miles for £290m, set to start in 2020, and complete in 2023.

Dom is clearly engrossed in deep physics, but unmoved by clear evidence that new roads create new traffic, largely commuters, and that more roads mean more carbon production and more pollution from tyre-shredding. Someone needs to move him from transmitting to listening, fast.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Here we go again

The political football that is "new roads" gets an unwelcome kick from re-elected Lewes MP, Maria Caulfield, in her first comments to the Sussex Express. 

“There is a bid £450m to dual [the A27] and I will be working with Caroline Ansell, now the MP in Eastbourne, to try and fast track that."

Thursday, 28 November 2019


It is only one poll, but it's detailed at constituency level. The YouGov MRP poll has these estimates of the share for Lewes...

Conservative 47%
Libdems        41%
Labour             8%
Green               3%
Others              2%

Thursday, 21 November 2019


Conservative Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says there'll be a review of the proposed £3.5bn Oxford-Cambridge expressway, if he gets back to the job after the election.

 “I am not at all anti-roads and we have got a massive road investment project. I am just not satisfied that this scheme is going to provide the benefits that we first thought. Specifically, a lot of it is on flat land which is prone to flooding so the mitigation measures to protect against that will massively add to the cost of the project. I am disappointed with the speed of progress of east-west rail and I think it is by far the better solution to boost the Oxford-Cambridge-Milton Keynes link-up.”

Anyone else know of roods planned for areas prone to flooding ?

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Up in the air

It seems the creation of new roads in this country is not necessarily the job of experts - from this extremely Civil Service response to my latest Freedom of Informaton enquiry, directed at the Department for Transport. The author is Serumun Biam, Correspondence Team, Strategic Roads, Economics and Statistics

Dear Mr Rogers,

Thank you for your request dated 8 October 2019, made under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, for information on the A27 and proposal for enhancements to
the route between Lewes and Polegate. You specifically asked:

Can you confirm that you have a positive business case and supporting  papers for
an option to improve the existing A27 with RIS2 funding, as Ms Caulfield claims ?
Can you say who has written them?

The development of the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) is not dependent
on an organisation (Highways England or otherwise) having made a bid to the
Department for a specific, detailed proposal in order for a scheme to be included in
the investment plan or our pipeline of proposals to be explored or developed for a
future RIS.

Rather, the Department works with Highways England and other organisations to
develop a robust evidence base covering the current performance of the whole of the
strategic road network and future pressures on it. As well as Highways England's
own data and research, the evidence base encompasses our understanding of
stakeholder views (including from road users and local communities) assembled
through a process of engagement and consultation. The Department uses this
evidence base to decide how best to allocate the funding available, including the
operation, maintenance, renewal and enhancement of the network.

As Highways England has informed you, the output of the study investigating the
need (or otherwise) for an off-line improvement between Lewes and Polegate forms
part of that evidence base. And, as mentioned in our previous response to you, it
also includes the comments of Maria Caulfield MP as reported in the press. No
similar study for an on-line improvement to the A27 on its current route has been
undertaken, but as explained above, that would not prevent a decision being made
as part of RIS2 to explore or develop such an option.

In short, no options for how to proceed in relation to the A27 between Lewes and
Polegate have been ruled in or out of consideration at this stage beyond the
interventions already funded through the first RIS.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Back to the 90s

Is there an election on ?

On the 13th March 2017, Maria Caulfield signed a letter to the Department for Transport, asking for £3m to investigate the building of a new road. "We believe that there is a compelling case for an offline dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate, which will deliver substantial transport improvements and vast economic and environmental benefits to both the local and national economies".

Today a letter to my address. "I have always said I would only support a plan to dual the existing road, which would see the improvements we need but mitigate the environmental impact. We are expecting to hear the announcement about road funding at the end of the year and I wanted to reassure you that my position has still not changed.

"There is considerable political pressure from the Libdems in Eastbourne for a new superhighway which would cut through the heart of our countryside and I will not support this and would oppose it.

"If funding was agreed, work would start on the route options which would include the previous plans to dual the A27 from the 90s which had widespread support".

My reading ?  The three offline options are still in play.