Highways England (HE) – the new company set up to replace the Highways Agency from next April – has promised to “transform our national roads” over the next decade and beyond and suggested it will be “a very different business from the organisation it will succeed”.  

The statements are both contained in the organisation’s first five-year Strategic Business Plan, published earlier this month, which outlines a number of goals and aspirations in terms of modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorway and major A-road network.

These include the conversion of more than 400 miles of motorways into ‘smart motorways’ with hard-shoulder running and the transformation of the country’s busiest A-roads into ‘Expressways’ with modernised junctions, emergency refuge areas and advanced technology to help improve traffic flows.

The document also promises a public consultation in 2016 on “a much-needed” further Lower Thames Crossing with construction starting by 2021, subject to planning consent and funding.

Other aspirations included in the document include encouraging economic growth by monitoring the average delay on the road network per vehicle per mile – though no specific targets have been included on this issue; ensuring at least 85% of all motorway incidents are cleared within one hour; and maximising lane availability so it does not fall below 97% in any one rolling year.

The business plan also suggests HE will recruit at least 600 more staff by early 2016, bringing the total to over 4,100.

A Highways Agency spokesman said the move to ensure 97% lane availability would not result any changes to the way decisions were made about lane closures during vehicle recoveries – something the recovery community has been increasingly alarmed about of late. “There are no plans to try and get more lane availability by changing our guidelines,” he confirmed.

The spokesman also indicated that despite the staff increases there were “no plans for any big changes” in the next five years in terms of the number of Traffic Officers deployed on the network.