Road-user charging – the answer to everything or nothing? – Ben Plowden and Rich Sallnow, PA Consulting

Road-user charging – the answer to everything or nothing? – Ben Plowden and Rich Sallnow, PA Consulting

The funding and decarbonisation of road transport in the UK continues to be a hot topic. The Treasury anticipates a £35 billion hole in the budget owing to lower fuel duty and vehicle excise duty (VED) as the fleet electrifies. But vehicle electrification alone will not be sufficient to hit net-zero targets. The number of miles driven needs to fall too, as some policymakers in the devolved administrations have recognised.

Is introducing road-user charging the answer?

A number of authoritative voices – including the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and the Climate Change Committee – have argued that a national road-user charging scheme is the answer to these challenges. And in principle, it could be. But the political and technical complexity of introducing a scheme that simultaneously manages congestion, raises revenues, incentivises low- and no-emission vehicles – and does all equitably as household budgets are under unprecedented pressure – is too big a mountain to climb. Twinned with the existing web of disconnected schemes including congestion zones, tolls, and clean air zones, alongside unique policy priorities in different regions of the UK, the implementation challenge becomes truly daunting.

Despite these challenges, the £35 billion funding shortfall is likely to lead the Treasury to look at a ‘revenue collection’ scheme in the first instance. But how would we ensure any revenue collection scheme introduced in the near future facilitates broader policy ambitions in the long term and allows enhancements to tackle regional policy goals?

Understanding the potential road-user charging evolution is key

Understanding now how road-user charging may need to evolve will enable transport policymakers to develop a solution that enables a wider range of policy positions later on.

Here are three potential phases of maturity that road-user charging could go through – and which an early-stage solution will eventually need to accommodate.

Phase 1: Introducing a distance-based charge

The first phase could see the introduction of a distance-based charge, with an annual odometer inspection to evidence a pence-per-mile cost of motoring as the simplest and potentially cheapest way of implementation. This could apply to electric vehicles (EVs) in the first instance, with petrol and diesel vehicles still paying fuel duty and VED, establishing the principle that EVs also need to cover their wider ‘external’ costs. It could also help offset the risk of congestion induced by much lower mileage costs of EVs relative to fossil-fuelled vehicles. This could operate alongside existing congestion and emission charging schemes, and, through its introduction, help offset loss of revenues from electrification.

Whilst termed ‘simple’, the design of the scheme still poses significant complexity. How will the government continue to incentivise the shift to clean vehicles whilst ensuring all road users contribute to the ongoing costs of the road network? How will driving on private land, driving abroad and foreign vehicles in the UK be managed? What will be the penalties for fraudulent behaviour and how will it be monitored? Alongside this, government will also need to decide how the scheme will operate, who will be responsible for collecting funds, how funds should be invested, the commercial terms for an odometer inspection, and the legislative instruments needed to enforce them.

Phase 2: Adding emissions-based charging to the mix

The next stage of maturity could see the introduction of a distance and emissions-based per-mile charge, with a discounted rate for low and no-emission vehicles. An annual odometer inspection would continue to be available. Or, as an alternative, drivers could opt for an onboard unit and/or mobile phone apps to enable GPS tracking and allow for a daily, weekly or monthly charge. Digital channels would offer drivers a convenient way to pay, together with seamless and integrated payment of other clean air and congestion zone charges.

This digitally enabled solution would create additional challenges. Can GPS tracking be relied on through major cities such as London? How could enforcement work should users not comply with the rules? What consideration needs to be given to GDPR factors? And should the digital channels that enable this more sophisticated solution be owned and operated by the government or outsourced?

Phase 3: Introducing a single road-use account for each motorist

A single road-use account for each motorist would support distance, emissions and congestion-based charges. With this solution enabled by an app, phone or onboard unit, motorists would receive an automated charge to their road-user account and a regular digital update on their charges. There would be no need to interact frequently with the charging system, but instead notifications set at the user’s discretion (be it per trip or per month amounts). Linked to navigation and/or transport platforms, a planned journey can be costed and considered alongside alternatives such as bus and rail.

Many of the challenges tackled in previous phases will resolve those that exist with phase three. However, a mature solution like this will require road users to trust the charges made to their account. This, in turn, will demand a cultural and behavioural shift.

Phased implementation points the way forward

As we face an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, any road user charging scheme requires careful consideration. Policy makers need a forensic understanding of the financial impact on households – based on different types of motorists, road users and the wider economy. The challenge we face is that the fiscal and environmental issues facing road transport are not going away.

Road-user charging holds real promise for policy makers looking to drive decarbonisation of the fleet and reduce miles travelled. The delivery challenge is undeniably substantial but, with a phased approach, is achievable. Careful design of the implementation of each phase – with thinking that considers the long-term vision before creating a reactive solution to today’s burning platform – will result in road-user charging solutions that are more convenient and more appealing for motorists. This, in turn, will help change the choices that motorists make about what type of car to drive and how much and when to drive.



Covid, the economy, and the Roads Policy Trilemma – Michael Whelan, M6Toll

Covid, the economy, and the Roads Policy Trilemma – Michael Whelan, M6Toll

Michael Whelan, General Manager at M6Toll looks at RUC trials in California, Utah and Washington state, and explains how lessons learnt could be applied in the UK 

The arrival of the Covid19 pandemic in the UK changed everything overnight, not least on our roads. The near-total disappearance of road traffic during multiple lockdowns led many globally – like the Brookings Institute in the US – to ask how the carbon and congestion benefits of reduced road traffic could be preserved as lockdowns ended.

The impact had certainly been significant. In March 2020 the first of three national lockdowns came into force and within just 6 days, three quarters of all motor vehicle journeys had vanished from the UK’s road network.

But this dramatic shift hasn’t had the enduring legacy that many anticipated – and the emissions and congestion challenges have come roaring back. As society and the economy returns to other critical more ‘traditional’ challenges – such as inflation and the cost of living – traffic levels also returned to a pre-Covid state. In the first week of July 2022, over two years since the first lockdown began, car usage on Britain’s roads stood between 92% and 105% of pre-Covid levels[1]. Even by March 2022, car usage on motorways in the West Midlands in particular had returned to 97% of pre-Covid levels

However, whilst overall traffic levels have returned to pre-Covid numbers, traffic patterns have changed – at least temporarily. At the M6toll we have observed this shift in two ways:

Most apparently, weekday traffic on the M6toll is now 14% below 2019 levels. It’s probable this is due to commuter patterns adjusting to the widespread emergence of hybrid working. Speaking to our customers about their changing work and leisure patterns has enabled us to create flexible new products to respond to the shift in consumer behaviours.

Conversely, weekend traffic on the M6toll is now almost 5% above 2019 levels. A combination of factors – including a rise in UK holidays – could be behind this, but longer-term it remains to be seen whether this change endures or returns to pre-Covid levels as global travel returns.

But even with these changes to driver behaviour, overall traffic levels over the course of the week are back now at similar levels to pre-pandemic, meaning the roads policy challenges facing the country have not gone away. These challenges are three-fold – how to decarbonise road traffic, how to continue to support economic growth through improved connectivity, and how to protect the very significant levels of Exchequer funding raised through VAT and fuel duty. It is this road policy trilemma that has resulted in the increasing focus on Road User Pricing (RUP) as the solution.

In fact, far from ‘not going away’, these three road policy challenges have actually intensified in recent months. As the economic turbulence of inflation continues to bite – spread and encouraged by the cost of petrol, diesel and energy prices – this trilemma has become more urgent. Electric Vehicles sales are soaring as consumers look for cheaper modes of travel and the Exchequer is again under pressure to examine its fuel duty and VAT receipts. In other words, it’s not just Covid that has underscored the virtues of RUP but also the environment of today’s post-Pandemic and inflationary  economy.

Indeed, with organisations as diverse as bus companies, councils and the AA supporting road user charging, its stock is certainly rising. Yet one major roadblock stands in the way – public acceptability. As some reporting has already made clear, any Government introducing road user charging would face stiff opposition from some quarters, making its introduction difficult without public acceptability.

At M6toll, the UK’s only tolled road, operating at no cost to the tax payer, we have a unique insight into what the Government can do to make road user charging acceptable to the public. From our experience, and research we conducted with Stantec, we’ve identified three ways to make road user charging more palatable to the public:

Let them try it out first

The Washington State of Transportation Commission (WSTC) trialled road user charging in 2018 and found that the biggest influence on increased public acceptability was having participated in or been familiar with the trial. After a year of participating in the pilot programme, studies showed that motorists became more favourable towards RUC, with 68% of the respondents preferring RUC over or equally to the gas tax – a marked increase.

This suggests that the Government would be wise to phase any scheme in over time, allowing the public to gradually get used to road user charging in increments, rather than in one big bang. Whilst this might introduce other policy challenges – delaying the revenue take for example – it may be more likely to build public acceptability.

Offer choice

The Utah Department of Transport launched a voluntary RUC pilot programme for electric and hybrid vehicles, giving owners the choice of either paying a flat fee or paying by the mile. This element of choice appears to have reduced opposition by giving drivers some power in how they pay, at least at the beginning of the scheme.

In the UK, this could be in the options to pay offered – as in Utah – or it could be in ensuring that there are alternative non-chargeable routes available for those wishing to use them.

Focus on fairness

The California Transportation Committee launched a pilot programme in 2016 that found that rural drivers, lower-income drivers and drivers of certain ethnicities were the most difficult targets to convert from volunteer to participants, whilst in Colorado, 54% of the participants perceived road user charging would unfairly penalise rural drivers who often need to travel longer distances.

In the UK, AA President Edmund King has developed proposals that would see rural residents given a larger allocation of ‘free miles’ to use before road user charges applied and the Government would do well to consider this and other fairness elements seriously.

These findings point to the Government resisting calls for a simple, one-size-fits-all approach that, whilst easy to understand, might actually undermine road user pricing. This would be a major strategic error. The government’s latest OBR report identifies the “loss of existing motoring taxes in a decarbonising economy” as a critical challenge to the UK’s national debt and fiscal outlook. Particularly at a time of inflation, increased spending and post-Pandemic changes to domestic travel, this is not something we can afford to get wrong.

With the roads policy trilemma not going away any time soon, it’s worth taking the time to get this right.

[1] Covid19 Transport Use Statistics, Official Statistics, DFT, UK Govt (2022)

Five trends impacting the future of highways – Andy Theobald, Mott MacDonald

Five trends impacting the future of highways – Andy Theobald, Mott MacDonald

If we want our road infrastructure to be fit for the long term, we must keep pace with the key drivers affecting the highways industry, says Andy Theobald.

Providing our clients with long-term solutions means looking ahead, taking a 10 to 20-year time horizon to understand how to design and deliver projects that will serve society decades into the future.

It’s common to look at new technologies and processes that are making an impact now – artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example – and try to imagine a world where they are even more embedded in our solutions than today.

Technologies come and go, however, and the speed of innovation means many of the tools we’ll be using in the coming years have yet to make an impact currently. Instead, it’s more useful to look at the main drivers affecting demand to get a better sense of the long-term solutions we need to deliver:


Roads for levelling up

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals are steering economic development, and good road infrastructure directly or indirectly supports all of them in some way. Highways link people to jobs, to markets to sell their goods, to educational opportunities and healthcare facilities. Roads can be a key investment to change people’s economic prospects and to support equality, as good connectivity can reduce time spent on menial tasks and widen access to jobs and opportunity.

The World Bank estimates that nearly 1bn people worldwide live more than 2km from an all-weather road. It also estimates that one in six women globally are not actively seeking work out of fear of harassment in transit. While road infrastructure in the UK is significantly more developed, there is still scope to improve the network to help spread prosperity. The focus should be on the factors driving the community’s need for the road. Improving neighbourhoods, addressing the needs of local communities, and enhancing the natural environment through nature-based solutions and regenerative design, will all help to maximise the long-term benefits.

Delivering net-zero

The International Transport Forum’s 2021 transport outlook estimates that to 2050 there will be a 2.3-fold increase in demand for passenger transport and a 2.6-fold increase in demand for freight transport. In the UK, the Department for Transport predicts road traffic will increase by between 17% and 51% by 2050 (depending on the development trajectory taken). Digital systems and smart motorways will be crucial in helping us to use existing roads more efficiently. Where new road infrastructure is needed, this must be balanced with the need to drive down emissions. Roads which support and encourage active transport and electrified vehicles will be key to cutting emissions, while working with suppliers to enhance the materials used will help reduce embodied carbon.

Designing for safety

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.35M people are killed on the world’s roads each year. Road accidents are already the leading cause of death for people between the ages of five and 29, and by 2030, WHO predicts that more people will die as a result of road accidents than die of cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes or violence. Besides the tragic human cost, there is also an economic cost to countries – estimated as an average of 3% of GDP each year – which impacts the resources that can be put into social development.

We need to work with users, operators and vehicle manufacturers to design in safety, using technology where appropriate. Our efforts should include helping to promote a cultural change in attitudes to the remote control of vehicles on roads by convincing the public they can carry more traffic, more safely.

Alternatives to fossil fuels

We know electric vehicles are a crucial and growing element of our transport system to tackle emissions, and these need to be supported with the necessary charging infrastructure. Heavy trucks, though, challenge what is capable via current battery technology and charging times would impact logistics. Sweden and Germany have trialled electric road systems which power heavy trucks via overhead lines, rails or an induction loop. This is a technically feasible solution to electrifying heavy vehicles but the business case is still to be proven.

The probable long-term solution could be green hydrogen, either through combustion or fuel cells, which requires development of specialised infrastructure to support it. As for active transport modes, inner city commuters increasingly expect dedicated cycle lanes and greater separation between pedestrians and car users, with better, greener public spaces that support health and wellbeing.

Digital first

Technology will change the way we use roads. Connected, driver-assisted and electric vehicles are delivering better informed and more comfortable journeys. As we look into the future, mobility as a service and other shared ownership models are likely to make road journeys more affordable and accessible for everyone. Data-driven operations and management solutions will boost the capacity of our network and lead to more efficient maintenance. A digital-first approach will help deliver enhanced journeys for all.

If we want to unlock the significant social benefits of point-to-point road journeys, the highways industry must continue to invest and keep up with technological advances to create a road transport network that is accessible, affordable and inclusive. While the outlook is uncertain, keeping mindful of these five key trends will help ensure highways infrastructure supports all parts of society for the long term and common good.

Andrew Theobald, group practice leader for highways, Mott MacDonald

Roadways can handle extreme weather – Jose Javier García Pardenilla, Ferrovial

Roadways can handle extreme weather – Jose Javier García Pardenilla, Ferrovial

Jose Javier García Pardenilla, Project Lead at Ferrovial, argues that roads are durable to extreme weather conditions, we just have to redesign how we formulate asphalt pavement.

This year, we have seen surprising images from around the world, from airports forced to halt operations due to melted pavements to melting roads or tires that have been affected.

But it would be incorrect to assume that the problem lies in roads being unable to withstand heat. We actually have to redesign how we formulate asphalt pavement. Lately, we’ve been facing a climate emergency where central and northern Europe have been impacted dramatically this summer. Some of the problems they have had to face include not having air conditioning in their homes; in light of what has happened, they will undoubtedly need to install it. Some of my acquaintances who live in countries with climates that are quite different from ours have been telling me about it. This is the case of some acquaintances from Geneva (Switzerland) who told me that it was really difficult since houses there were not prepared for the heat. Similarly, roadways initially designed for different climatic conditions have needed adaptations for warmer climates and heat waves in summer like the ones we’ve seen recently. It is precisely in these extreme moments that the roadway has to respond properly and continue to operate. If a road surface breaks down in a heat wave, it is no longer useful and has to be rebuilt.

But what’s really going on?

When you start looking into pavement, one of the first things you’ll come across is rut formation. Ruts are a deformation that occurs when traffic drives on a road, usually when the heat affects the surface in such a way that it loses its structural capacity. This is basically what has happened in many parts of Europe this summer.

I’ve taken this opportunity to find some books in the lab library to show that even they list this concept as the number one topic in the roadway catalog by the former MOPU (currently the Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and the Urban Agenda). As you can see, this knowledge has been available for decades. The only thing that remains to be done is to adopt a rapid change in the regulations implemented in Europe. I’d like to point out that Spain has a tradition of expertise in building roads that, from my point of view, is among the top three in the world. This is due, in large part, to the influence that Spanish universities, the Ministry of Transport itself, and Cedex, to name a few, have had with amazing work done in training and communication regarding this issue.

All of this work to train professionals well is also part of the success of our construction companies outside Spain. Building knowledge means building value, and this transforms into opportunities and benefits in the medium and long term. This is a clear success story, and we should thank everyone who has made it possible for decades.

Take a look at this BBC news photo from this year, 2022; it shows the same thing happening as the photo from the 1989 roadway deterioration catalog. It’s not that the UK has done anything wrong; they just have to change the circumstances surrounding infrastructure. From now on, they should start changing the bitumen specifications for roads. If they don’t do so soon, this will become a mistake.

How can we prevent roads from melting?

Asphalt bitumens are binders; you can think of them as the glue for the aggregates (rocks) in the road. These bitumens are classified by hardness, which is proportional to their temperature resistance. This means that the harder they are, the more resistant they will be to high temperatures. In Europe, bitumens are classified with a number: the lower the number, the harder the bitumen will be. There are two main ones used here, the B 50/70 and B 35/50. Historically, the B 50/70 has been most used in Europe, and now it should be replaced by the B 35/50.

About 20 years ago, when I hadn’t been working long, I remember the El Prat Airport project carried out by Ferrovial. We invested a lot of time in meetings with Aena and explanations to substitute B 50/70 for B 35/50. We did so precisely because of what is happening now in Europe. I was worried that a hard summer would come right after finishing the project and that ruts will appear. It took a lot of work because, once a project is drafted, it’s quite difficult to change. Finally, Aena’s technicians understood our point of view, and we did it with B 35/50. To be honest, I was satisfied because it was a technical issue, one that was of concern for the infrastructure. The price of both products were the same, so it was all the benefits at the same cost. I know for a fact that those pavements will be better off today than if we had used B 50/70.

So what is the advantage of bitumen B 50/70?

B 50/70 resists low winter temperatures better; being softer in the cold, they work better. But of course, this problem is becoming less and less relevant. In the case of Barcelona’s airport, this almost didn’t apply, given Barcelona’s wonderful climate in winter.

Surely someone will be wondering, “Are there no other solutions other than hard or soft?”

Modified bitumen

The answer is yes. The technology is highly present in solutions for road and airport surfaces. About 20 years ago, polymer-modified bitumens were developed and have become commonplace. This polymer is usually elastomeric. It gives the bitumen elasticity and significantly improves its properties to resist cold and heat. With this new bitumen, we could have it all: good properties in the cold and in extreme heat. Ferrovial   has been doing surface reinforcements at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas airport for years with this product. Thanks to this, the same thing hasn’t happened at this airport as in many other places in Europe with the climbing temperatures.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be a speaker at the Argus conference in Nice, where I explained that the top environmental product is the one that lasts the longest. With the current raw material crisis, we should also try to use fewer quantities of products. To do this, I said that we had to start making more roads with modified bitumen to make them last longer. We can also reduce the thickness of the roads since the performance of the modified bitumen is much higher and allows for making pavement thinner. Now, there’s another very important reason that I didn’t think was so significant in May: resisting heat waves. Modified bitumen has a softening point around 70ºC or even over 80ºC, while this point for the normal types that we mentioned before is around 50ºC.

This is already a common trend; look at this news from Alabama. In the United States, the use of polymer-modified bitumen is growing. After these episodes, it will continue to do so.

For example, most of the projects by Cintra use modified bitumen in the surface layer, which comes into the most contact with the outside and must therefore withstand extreme conditions the most.

Some countries that have come to understand this situation well are Germany, Poland, and the European centers that have high percentages of using modified bitumen, even exceeding 30% of all bitumen used in the country. These road surfaces will last longer; therefore, it will take longer before needing reinforcement. Thanks to this, they will provide significant savings to the infrastructure’s owner. In our project for the Bratislava bypass, we not only used modified bitumen for the surface layer; we also used it for the middle one. This is quite a success, and in the long term, it will provide a great return on investment.

To compare this with construction, I usually say that the polymer is to bitumen as metal mesh is to concrete – it makes it much better and more resistant.

Talking about solutions

As usually is the case, these are simple: balancing the consumption of conventional bitumen with harder products and generalizing the use of modified bitumen.

As you can imagine, the manufacturing technology for modified bitumen is complex, and the chemical interaction between the polymer and bitumen is key for good performance. But let’s leave all these technicalities for those of us who have to work on the proper functioning of infrastructure so that you can enjoy your next trip by car or by plane.

And now, in conclusion, I want to highlight one more thing. In the end, when you implement a technological improvement, this is transported to many things. In the case of modified bitumens, the performance is better – for the drivers; we can use less material – an environmental improvement; there’s greater durability – another environmental improvement; they won’t melt in a heat wave – an absolute improvement. This means we have to work on improvements every day, and the benefits will come back to us full circle.

Look at this road I drive on every day. It’s the M-100 in the Community of Madrid. It was built by Ferrovial Construction in 2008 and was made with modified bitumen, along with a porous road surface, which means it does not get waterlogged when it rains. This photo is from 2018, eight years after its construction and eight years of constant use. Today, it is exactly the same. Working on quality infrastructure is vital, but considering the climatic circumstances is also important. You can read more about that in this post.


How to make the best choices for sustainable transport – Alex Walton, Arcadis

How to make the best choices for sustainable transport – Alex Walton, Arcadis

Alex Walton, Director and Product Owner at Arcadis, explains how we can optimise our transport strategies and make data driven decisions. 

Transport planners love optimization.  We are great at tinkering with signal timings and converging strategic models.  But we have also been limited in ambition, the result of this often being more investment in models and ultimately more roads.  Perhaps we need to refocus our analytics towards transport strategies instead, balancing the objectives of sustainable development and making hard decisions easier.

The academics have been telling us optimization should be part of our decision-making toolkit for years (  Professor Susan Owens at Cambridge lectures about the tough trade-offs transport and environment policy-makers must make between the pillars of sustainable development.  So how do we achieve net-zero whilst simultaneously levelling up?

Empowering transport planners

Many of us joined the transportation planning profession with the idea of making a difference.  After the declaration of climate emergencies by many Transport Authorities, there’s been an amazing upswell in ambition and impact from local and regional authority officers across the country.

But one officer can’t move an industry by themselves.  They need support – from the bottom-up, from the top-down, from partnerships, from people, from tools – a means to align their stakeholders towards urgent new goals.

Making data driven decisions

At Arcadis we’re passionate about supporting our clients through this journey.  Here are our top tips for capital investment planning:

  • Collaborate intensively with stakeholders to agree the vision, objectives and how to measure success
  • Create a long-list of potential interventions, with extensive inputs from all parties, and assess the relative impacts of each intervention against your success measures
  • Adopt a data driven approach to prioritizing projects
  • Show the impacts in KPIs across the portfolio and extensively test different scenarios, together with stakeholders, to move towards compromise

We have developed a solution for our clients to do just this.  And it’s a proven tool. We’ve been using this with regulated water clients who had to prepare five-year capital investment plans. Their challenge was how to select the best combination of projects from a very long list, in order to maximize outcomes (e.g. sustainability, levelling up, customer satisfaction, OpEx etc.) within a set of constraints (e.g. budget).  A classic optimization problem.

The successes were outstanding, for example helping Severn Trent Water secure >£200m in financial benefit, mainly from increased funding, during a 15-year partnership.

So, if it works so well with water clients, why not transportation planning?

Introducing the Transport Strategy Optimizer

We have repurposed our proven investment optimization tools into the new Transport Strategy Optimizer, a cloud-based decision-support software for our clients as they develop bold transport strategies.

How does it work?  The user simply uploads a long-list of projects, each with data on costs and other KPIs as per the framework agreed with stakeholders.  The tool then applies research-based optimization to answer the question:  What is the optimal Capital Investment Plan within our constraints and with our goals in mind? 

Budget is an example of a constraint.  Emissions reduction or levelling up deprived areas are examples of goals.  The user can specify any combination of constraints and goals from their KPI framework.  This allows for creation of new scenarios anytime, anywhere; and importantly together with stakeholders.

Does this mean removing the human touch from decision making?  Absolutely not, no tool can ever replace the importance of local knowledge.  It is a decision-support tool for officers, allowing them to run large numbers of scenarios, evaluate trade-offs, find the optimum balance between outcomes, and achieve greater stakeholder alignment by doing this interactively.  In other words, facilitating collaboration and encouraging compromise whilst still optimizing outcomes.

We are now testing the software with key regional and local clients, with a plan to then release more widely in the UK and beyond.

This is one of the many ways Arcadis is supporting the impetus towards net-zero in Transportation Planning.  What an exciting time to be a Transport Planner.

Contact person –


More zero, less net – Adam Crossley, Skanska

More zero, less net – Adam Crossley, Skanska

Adam Crossley, Director of Environment at Skanska UK, explains how we need to get back to basics when tackling net-zero challenges in the highways sector.

Don’t over-complicate the journey to achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

We’re living through a period of significant change for society driven by the impacts of climate change. And we need look no further than the building and construction sector to find one of the world’s biggest emitters of carbon. Buildings equivalent to a city the size of Paris are being built every week, but less than one per cent of them are assessed to determine their carbon footprint. The good news is we’ve started the journey, but we have a long way to go. It means we have a huge opportunity, now, to do something about it.

Focusing on the basics

One of our biggest opportunities lies in focusing on the basics, through targeting the highest emitting sources of carbon emissions first. Approximately 70% of emissions in our sector arise from steel, concrete, asphalt and plant. We have to significantly reduce and then effectively eliminate carbon in these areas in order to get to net-zero emissions across our industry.

It starts with a clear vision that sets targets, milestones and clarity on expectations. We’ve seen this over recent years with organisations including National Highways, HS2 and Network Rail all publishing their net-zero carbon plans. In its roadmap to net-zero, National Highways has set its expectation to achieve net zero road maintenance and construction by 2040. The plan is backed by evidence and has impressive sub-targets to bring it to life. Unsurprisingly, high on the priority list is tackling carbon emissions caused by asphalt, cement and steel.

Being better together

So how do we go about it? We have the best chance of success through joining forces, sharing knowledge and working collaboratively – across different market sectors and countries. The good news is it’s happening. On our M42 Junction 6 scheme, for example, we’ve received funding from National Highways to work alongside the National Composites Centre, Basalt Technologies and Tarmac to compare traditional steel reinforced concrete with a low carbon concrete, reinforced with basalt fibre. The trial, on a haul road, is proving a success and we’re now looking at the next stage of the project.

But it also poses a challenge, which is common across the industry. In order to rollout innovations at scale they need to be proven to ensure compliance with the relevant standards and accreditations. That’s absolutely the right thing to do. But we all know that this takes time, often years. Maybe there is an alternative option. If the current standard specifies a 120-year design-life, but a carbon-friendly material may have a reduced design-life, could the standard be adapted instead? It’s important issues like this that we need to focus on as an industry so we can find ways to safely introduce new innovations and ways of working, while supporting delivery of our net-zero carbon ambitions.

Achieving common understanding

We also need to work alongside materials specialists and related industry bodies. For example, Skanska are founding signatories to both the ConcreteZero and SteelZero pledges, committing us to procuring, specifying and stocking 100% net zero steel and working with net-zero concrete by 2050, with interim commitments on the way. It’s industry leading, but we also know that the 2050 target is 10 years behind where National Highways needs us to be. Cutting that gap, such as through designing steel out or using replacements, requires significant investment and collaborative working.

It’s essential therefore that we involve and bring our supply chain with us. We need the expertise of our partners and we need to ensure there is a common level of understanding, including in industry specifications such as PAS2080. We need to prioritise and focus on what is important in delivering the biggest carbon reduction impacts.

Market confidence

Although collaboration is important, let’s not over-complicate the challenge. We need to remember that the majority of our emissions result from just a handful of key emitters, so if we can tackle these directly we’ll solve most of the challenge. To do that we need confidence and clarity in the pipeline of projects at national level, which is so important for industry investment and can super-charge innovation. For example, if we know what our plant and fleet needs will be for years to come, we can demonstrate that demand to manufacturers, including Tier 2 and Tier 3 contractors, stimulating investment in electric, hydrogen and other clean fuel alternatives.

It’s just one example of how we can achieve transformation – where the collective strength of Government, industry bodies, customers, contractors and supply chain all come together. Let’s keep it simple and work together to make net-zero carbon a reality.



Transforming lives through Social Value – Andrew Stephenson, National Highways

Transforming lives through Social Value – Andrew Stephenson, National Highways

Andrew Stephenson, procurement director at National Highways, reflects on how road schemes can add value to society through economic prosperity and improving community wellbeing. 

At National Highways, we’re well positioned to transform our customer’s lives through social value and the legacy benefits it creates for future generations. Since joining the organisation two years ago, I’ve seen social value work delivered that’s not just great, its sector and industry leading.

Our 21-mile upgrade of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntington is a fantastic example. This £1.5bn project has not only provided more capacity and better connectivity for quicker, safer and more reliable journeys, we’ve also invested in preserving areas of historical interest along the route and protecting the environment by boosting biodiversity.

We deliver value to society in more ways than you may imagine.

Working with the local communities around our projects and operational areas helps us to design schemes that meet the economic needs of the area and the communities living nearby.

We invested more than £4 billion into our road network last year, and we estimate that will produce a return to society of roughly twice that figure.

Of course, a lot of that is economic value.

Businesses rely on our roads to move goods around the country, and people rely on them for work journeys, holidays and visits to friends and family.

Spending money with suppliers local to our projects, or supporting smaller businesses by engaging with them and helping them better understand how they can work with us, also helps support economic growth.

We want to do more and spend more with diverse suppliers to generate the widest possible social impact.

But it’s more than just economic value.

Together with our supply chain partners, we employ over 40,000 people and provide thousands of opportunities for people through apprenticeships, graduate schemes and training to build skills. We’re also focused on helping people get back into work – whether they’re ex-offenders, people who classify as homeless, ex -army veterans or simply need support to re-enter the job market after a career break.

By making sure we provide more opportunities for under-represented groups, we – and the wider highways sector – will benefit from a more diverse and talented workforce.

We empower our people to build better relationships in the communities in which they live and work by volunteering their time and skills to support projects they feel passionately about.

Our roads also play an important role in relieving the pressure of traffic from towns and cities.

We remove the traffic travelling through towns and cities and reduce congestion, noise and pollution in densely populated urban areas. And we’re working hard to address health-related issues and improve amenities, education, and heritage programmes in these and wider communities.

It’s important that we take sustainable decisions.

We conserve natural resources and enhance ecosystems wherever we can to protect the environment. We’re supporting road users to transition to zero-emission vehicles, increasing biodiversity, creating wildlife corridors and preventing flooding. Our Lower Thames Crossing project is a great example of delivering more by setting ambitious targets for biodiversity gains and carbon reduction, as well as the creation of public spaces and cycle routes.

Delivering social value isn’t new to us.

We’ve always built value into every aspect of our network, specifically focusing on the needs of our customers. We know how important it is that we make a positive difference to the communities and environment in which we work. To some extent we’re mandated to deliver this, but we also do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Andrew Stephenson is National Highways’ Procurement Director and leads on Social Value as part of his portfolio. To find out more about how National Highways is working with suppliers to make a difference for customers and local communities, come to Andrew’s talk at Highways UK, which is running in the National Highways Theatre on 2 November, 14.10-14.30

Innovative and sustainable approaches to concrete road refurbishment – Martyn Sherwood, Metrail Construction

Innovative and sustainable approaches to concrete road refurbishment – Martyn Sherwood, Metrail Construction

Martyn Sherwood, managing director at Metrail Construction, talks through sustainable methods to road maintenance taken from Germany’s Autobahn now being used in the UK.

Innovation, sustainability and technology — three things that we at Metrail are proud to be at the forefront of. And I’m delighted to say that the technology we brought to our recent concrete road refurbishment on a stretch of the M180 exemplifies exactly this.

I’m talking, of course, about the highly specialised resin product from Germany

After being introduced to the system via a manufacturer, we went over to Germany to fully understand its benefits. Having been to Germany, having visited the German Autobahn and having seen the system in use, I was very excited to bring it to the UK. And during a concrete road refurbishment of a stretch of the eastbound carriageway of the M180 which commenced in October 2021, we got the chance to do just that.

With the technical support of our German partner, Otto Alte-Teigeler GmbH (OAT), I was very excited for Metrail to be the first to trial this technique on England’s strategic road network. It’s important to me to continue finding solutions that are both cost effective as well as better for the planet.

So, how does it work and why do I prefer it over other solutions?

First a little background info about the resin: mixed on-site, the resin was designed for the stabilisation of concrete slabs on high-speed roads in Germany, where it has a credible history. With a product life of up to 30 years, the resin can survive under the road surface whilst subject to unbalanced loads, combinations of pressure, tension and shear as well as the dynamic effects of traffic much longer than brittle cement-based systems.

For this project on the M180, we drilled over 20,000 holes into the concrete slabs between Junction 1 and 3. Packers were mechanically fixed into the holes in the slab which allow the resin to be injected through the slab into the subsoil. The resin was then injected at a controlled pressure, and its job is twofold: one, unlike traditional cementitious products that are mixed with water, with the viscosity of the resin material being 1.4 times the density of water, the product is able to force any excess water out from under the slab. And two: it fills in all voids in the sub-formation.

Something else I really like about it: the fact that it’s a two-component silica resin with a ratio of 1:1 which is kept at a constant temperature means there’s no need to mess around with other chemicals. The advantage of this? Each mix is consistent and there’s very little waste. And compared with removal, this technique also has a smaller carbon footprint.

Another one of the reasons that I prefer this technique over other solutions is how quick it is. With a cure-time of 15 minutes, this is a customer-focused solution with a methodology that’s quicker than other approaches. The unique formula of the resin used and its rapid hardening capability, which allows carriageways to be opened much more quickly, is cost effective and a game changer for concrete road maintenance in the UK.

With a proven track record on the M180 — measurements taken by James Fisher Testing Services before and after each stabilisation shift suggest the pavement response significantly improved after the treatment, and the collected deflections for pavement evaluation purposes based on CD 227 mean that the overall stretch of pavement could be classified as Class A — I’m looking forward to a successful future with new innovation on concrete roads.



Hitting the bridge deck running as the new kid on the National Highways block – Rob Cook, Winvic

Hitting the bridge deck running as the new kid on the National Highways block – Rob Cook, Winvic

Rob Cook, Civils & Infrastructure Director at Winvic, talks about their delivery strategy and projects ahead of exhibiting at Highways UK this year.

Since I was appointed by Winvic in the brand-new role of Director for Civils and Infrastructure, it has been a whirlwind of strategic implementation and steady growth and two years has passed quicker than I ever thought possible. Capitalising on our expertise, experience and widely valued forward-thinking standards, our focus has been on winning contracts for infrastructure schemes and major rail freight interchanges, such as DIRFT III, SEGRO Logistics Park Northampton and West Midlands Interchange. Plus, we have also been appointed on large commercial and housing enabling projects as well as public sector highways frameworks. Having built excellent relationships with National Highways (NH) through numerous projects that have had Section 278, Section 38 and adjacent Smart Motorways programmes for almost 10 years, securing a place on the organisation’s new Scheme Delivery Framework (SDF) was the number one goal Winvic set its sights on.

The tender process was as robust as one would expect, and with our evidenced capabilities, innovative foresight and confidence in always doing the right thing – even if that means challenging the norm, on all areas from safety to materials used – we were successful. At the end of September 2021, we joined 49 other contractors on the Framework to deliver £3.6 billion of road renewal works on England’s motorways and trunk roads over the next six years. That was the easy bit! October was the start of a huge undertaking to plan, prepare and mobilise, from positioning team members to expanding on tender commitments and policies. As is in our DNA, there wasn’t a stone unturned between then and February 2022 to ensure the Framework requirements were met, and boy did we work hard. Nevertheless, it was also an exciting time as we waited to be given details and budget allocations for the circa 10 projects, in four geographical areas across two lots – Lot 8 Structures, Waterproofing and Expansion Joints and Lot 10 Structures, Structural Services and Concrete Repairs – that we were scheduled to deliver in the first year.

Winvic’s dedicated SDF office in Wakefield, just down the road from National Highways’ regional office, opened at the beginning of April at the same time as more planned project information emerged and liaison intensified. We began to look in detail at the schemes with the National Highways project managers, assign design teams where Early Contractor Involvement was possible and talk execution dates. Little did we know that none of these projects would be the first Winvic undertaking under the Framework; within a month we were asked to turn our attention to an emergency.

During a routine investigation by National Highways on the M62 bridge over the River Ouse, it was discovered that increased vibration from traffic has started to damage the concrete under lane three and a bridge joint, which allows the carriageway to expand and contract with the weather. Therefore, a contraflow was put in place to reduce eastbound traffic to one lane and keep drivers safe.

National Highways selected Winvic to assist as the team had the utmost confidence in our investigative, creative thinking and safety-first approach, and knew we had the skills immediately on hand to tackle such a large and unforeseen job. With Framework processes well in place by May, we were in the very best position to act fast with the aim of minimising disruption for the thousands of people who use the bridge. So, we began a raft of specialist surveys on the 1.6 kilometre, 40-metre-high structure that sits between Junctions 36 and 37 on the Yorkshire motorway. However, after an under-bridge inspection by one of Winvic’s structural engineers, we brought it to National Highways’ attention that there was excessive deflection within the cantilever deck section within Lane 3. While roads users are a top priority, safety comes higher on the list, and we recommended all traffic should be removed from this lane. Nevertheless, we on July 8th we installed some bridging plates, which enabled a single lane to be opened on the eastbound carriageway to enable traffic to exit at J37, helping to minimise disruption to motorist’s journeys.

Alongside the temporary solution, our team was also working with the National Highways Designer Jacobs, on designing the permanent answers and other associated works, comprising concrete and steel repairs, replacement bridge joints and improved drainage on the structure. There were two sets of bridging plates at our disposal, but one was not suitable for the structure and the second was less than ideal, so we advocated further research and sourced a plate more apt for the Ouse Bridge’s movement ranges. We have now installed these bridging plates over the damaged bridge joints as a temporary mitigation measure, and a second set will be added this autumn. We are also currently working as one team with a number of National Highways project partners on the complex design process required to replace all eight joints across both carriageways and it’s critical the solution reduces the need for full closures in the future as much as possible. The permanent installation programme will be undertaken in 2023 and is expected to be completed by autumn 2023.

The network plate design has just been approved and is about to be manufactured and the aim is to have these installed by the end of the year. Also, we have now started two out of the 10 other scheduled SDF schemes, which are joints and waterproofing projects based in Tingley and Lofthouse, being undertaken with daytime lane closures and weekend overnight closures to negate as much interruption to road users as possible.

In less than 12-months, we’ve not only won a place on the SDF and successfully prepared for mobilisation, but we’ve also hit the ground – or bridge deck! – running, illustrating we were the right contractor for the Framework. We are committed to meticulous planning, but we’re also equipped to react whenever required, we have experience in abundance, but we also champion finding new ways of doing things and we’re proud that National Highways values those attributes. Whether it’s capitalising on the efficiencies, reducing operational and embodied carbon or delivering benefits to the local communities in which we work, we’re here to do the right thing and steer the future of modern contracting

Inclusive Infrastructure Solutions – Mathew Haslam, Hardscapes

Inclusive Infrastructure Solutions – Mathew Haslam, Hardscapes

Mathew Haslam, managing director at Hardscape outlines their extensive product range with the UK’s largest selection of Connectivity Solutions Products.

Proudly independent and with over 25 years of expertise in pushing the boundaries of hard landscaping, Hardscape is driven by innovation and the ambition of providing environmentally conscious hard landscaping. Its latest range is integrated infrastructure design solutions which are used to create an improved health and wellbeing environment safe for cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles.

Our kerb range is available with different slopes, end styles, widths, depths, gradients, and radii which provide a practical purpose in both form and function, in a variety of colours in standard concrete, natural stone and Kellen Lavaro finishes.

Renowned for leading the way, bringing inspiration and innovation from around the globe, Hardscape provide Landscape Architects and Specifiers with unrivalled quality and function in a range of natural and man-made materials.

The Future of Inclusive Infrastructure Solutions.

2020 saw an unprecedented change in public behaviour in the UK, and throughout the world; in particular, during lockdown, the levels of walking and cycling increased and have remained high following the lifting of these restrictions. As a result, the UK government, influenced by the success of Dutch cycling, have fast tracked the statutory guidance, indicating local authorities should reallocate road space to accommodate significantly increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, providing a safe way for all age groups to use healthier methods of transportation.

The extensive research, detailed specification, and implementation of Hardscape’s new range of ‘Inclusive Infrastructure Solutions’ is reflective of Hardscape’s DNA and its commitment to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). Hardscape also see this as the natural next step in how external space designers, engineers and planners redesign landscapes with cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles in mind, creating an urban environment that all users can share space equitably and safely.

Paving the way with Dutch inspired policy and design.

Since the 1970s the Dutch have mastered creating a safer environment, inviting cycling and people to safely share existing travel infrastructure. For the Dutch to achieve this environmentally friendly connectivity strategy they have developed intelligent, logical, coherent kerb systems for actively segregating transport modes and methods.

Working with Dutch product solutions for over 20 years, Hardscape have the knowledge and distribution networks to now bring this innovative product range to the UK market.

Offering extensive options for every conceivable project, Hardscape’s new range bridges the gap between optimum design and attractive infrastructure spaces making them accessible for all.

“We are introducing these products to the UK with the support and impetus of the UK government’s wellbeing principles and directives. We hope to inspire the next generation of connected towns and cities that are brave in specification and designed to bring a long-lasting benefit for us all.” – Mathew Haslam- Managing Director, Hardscape.  

Discover more about Hardscape’s Inclusive Infrastructure Solutions.

The breadth of material types, from natural stone, traditional concrete, and natural stone aggregate finishes strengthens Hardscape’s position as the principal paving provider for every application. Hardscape also offers a reduced carbon range of green paving solutions, with its CERO brand; CERO uses a geo-polymer material to replace concrete reducing carbon impact by up to 50%.

To discuss this dynamic and ever-expanding range of Inclusive Infrastructure Solutions products visit:

Urban Trees, Highways and Utilities – Hannah Cook, GreenBlue Urban

Urban Trees, Highways and Utilities – Hannah Cook, GreenBlue Urban

Hannah Cook at GreenBlue Urban emphasises the importance of green infrastructure within the road network as towns and cities across the UK expand. 

With increasing urbanisation of our towns and cities, the pressure to plant trees is huge.

Priorities are under challenge, our road systems, with increasing traffic, need to provide safe pedestrian access suitable for all, and the plethora of below ground constraints create almost impossible hurdles to overcome.

Only as we give our green infrastructure some sort of parity with grey infrastructure in our urban conurbations, will we truly build resilience and create sustainable cities for future generations.

GreenBlue Urban encourage design with canopy cover in mind, as mature trees have multiple benefits; promoting a healthy, biodiverse, and the sustainable city which includes sequestering carbon, mitigating the effects of climate change, and improving our sense of biophilia minimising stress.

In 2015, a collaboration between Highways England, Keir, Treeconomics, Evans Associates, Davey and Forest research published an i-tree eco survey stating that trees planted in South West Region Highways network remove 29 tonnes of pollutants every year.

GreenBlue Urban worked closely with Glasgow City Highways and Civic Engineers on the scheme: Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. This project was implemented due to the considerable decline in the road’s retailers, so renovation to consolidate the main shopping centre to heart of the city, encouraging customers to visit the shops in person was put into action.

The ‘Green Avenues Plan’ was the driving force to increase canopy cover, with Sauchiehall Street being the perfect pilot to highlight how green infrastructure can be used to change human behaviour, challenging the dominance of vehicles in the public realm.

Twenty-eight specimen trees have been planted in full GreenBlue Urban ArborSystem tree pits provide a strong visual segregation between vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists. Designed as “linked” they provide maximum rooting space in uncompacted soil, giving the trees the best opportunity of attaining species potential.

Beneath the streets lie a labyrinth of interconnected utilities, foundations, and other construction constraints. Many of these constraints are not anticipated, as much of the infrastructure below ground is not well documented.

Guidelines given in the DMRB (Design Manual for Roads and Bridges) HD24 HD26: Pavement Design and Construction, state that the requirement of the road design and surface layer works are to be based principally on a traffic assessment figures. These are expressed in terms of million standards (80kN) axle loads (msa) carried during the design life of the construction. This traffic loading together with the quality of the subgrade dictates the selection of the surfacing and depth of a road pavement required.

The clue to successful tree planting in and around utilities is collaboration and understanding the risks to the utility provider. Trees are not inherently damaging, but they are exploitive of rooting volume, and tend to find the easiest route to nutrient, water, and air. When the initial planting zone has become insufficient for the tree health, the tree roots will explore further areas in search of these items, and in doing so can find small fissures or holes in service ducts and drains.

The complexity of utility runs beneath the paving means that the GreenBlue soil cell system; Rootspace can intertwine around these features, directing the roots into the uncompacted soil chambers. Joining the tree pits beneath ground allows the soil volumes to be reduced, as the trees share the available nutrients and become more resilient than standalone trees would.

The Challenges:

  • We often receive the question: Can you access the tree pits if required after installation? If utilities need to be accessed in the case of an emergency, the contractor simply must excavate to the top of the cell system, remove the RootSpace Lids and hand dig or vacuum excavate through the rooting zone to access the service.
  • Footway constrictions can also be an ongoing issue. GreenBlue advise to use ReRoot Barrier away from these potential issues and into the Cells below the road, allowing root penetration into optimum soil conditions.
  • Adoption of tree planting is a complicated issue, and many local authorities find it hard to maintain the balance between efficiently managing their scant resources and greening up urban areas. Commuted sums vary so it is advisable to be clear from the outset.

Well designed highways networks can deliver economic, social and wellbeing benefits, tree pits for the hard landscape are very much embedded within the narrative of green, blue, biodiverse thoroughfares through the effective use of green infrastructure.

New tree planting is required if we are to ensure a continuum of canopy cover for future generations. Urban tree planting needs emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

Delivering cleaner and fairer transport for Oxfordshire – Duncan Enright

Delivering cleaner and fairer transport for Oxfordshire – Duncan Enright

Councillor Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, looks at the future of transport in the county

Cllr Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy

Oxford and Oxfordshire weren’t built for motorised transport. Our historic county deserves an excellent travel network that connects us, helps businesses and jobs, gives access to opportunity, while tackling the climate and cost of living crises. That is what we are working to deliver, and we need your help and insight.

Since coming to power in May 2021, we’ve proposed steps to address the climate emergency and create a transport network that works for everyone.

We want residents and visitors to get around easily for work, education, daily living, and to connect families and friends. Our priority is to invest in an inclusive, integrated, and sustainable transport network while moving to zero carbon.

Most of us already contend with congestion and pollution. Cyclists and pedestrians are put at risk by sharing space with vehicles. If we carry on as we are while our population grows, we face gridlock. We must find ways for those who can to choose to travel on foot and bike, and use buses, taxis and trains (and share cars), to help free up our roads while we address the climate emergency and health issues by reducing emissions.

We are also committed to dealing with inequality. Cycling and walking are good ways to live healthily. But parts of the county and city are poorly served by public transport or lack safe connected cycle paths. Alternatives to cars must be affordable and work for everyone. Some people, and not just those with blue badges, need more help getting around, and we must plan for that too.

The County Council can’t do this alone. The city of Oxford, other local authorities and the county need to work together: the county needs access to its beloved city, and the city needs the county not to clog up its roads.

Our approach is to invest and encourage people to change the way they travel with a series of bold measures.

We are putting the interests of people with disabilities and those travelling on foot and bicycle first, providing better bus services, supporting taxis, and working to expand railways. We will amend existing policies, and with public help we are writing a radical Local Transport and Connectivity Plan to support this change.

Our planning strategy will evolve so new housing developments offer alternatives to the car – meaning residents need fewer parking spaces, have more green areas, and many can live on estates where car ownership isn’t necessary.

We must use data to understand where and when people want to travel so we make smarter choices about how to avoid traffic jams and offer smart ticketing on public transport. It will also allow us to provide dashboards on air pollution and local effects of the climate emergency.

We are determined not to build roads which will simply encourage more vehicle movements and reduce the space for living healthy. However, we have inherited some schemes bound up with new housing which need careful and thoughtful design and construction, not least to support new bus routes and cycle lanes. We also need to adapt existing roads to be better, faster routes for buses and bikes.

We want to gradually reduce parking spaces in Oxford and encourage others to do so, for instance through a workplace parking levy (which will be invested to provide quick and easy alternatives for commuters). Large employers like the universities are already working on this basis.

E-scooters, e-bikes and community buses can be used for the last few miles of journeys from out-of-town car parks. Motorcycles also offer an efficient alternative to cars and are part of our planning.

We’ve created a zero emission zone in Oxford, with plans to expand to the whole city centre and beyond, charging polluting vehicles as we move to all-electric transport.

There will be a focus on public transport, including replacing diesel buses with electric ones in Oxford from 2023, and introducing new lanes and bus priority measures to give peak priority in Oxford. There is one of these measures on Oxford High Street already, and another slightly different one on Botley Road. We will support community buses to connect people in our rural towns and villages. To achieve this, we will work in close partnership with the bus companies.

Our roads and urban environment also need to become safer and cleaner for people on foot, bikes, and mobility scooters. We have conducted experiments to cut through-traffic in our residential streets to improve air quality and quality of life and will review what we have learned. Reducing through-traffic in town centre streets can also help businesses operate outdoors and increase the attractiveness of our high streets for shoppers.

‘School Streets’ trials have also worked well in some places. More are planned to encourage children and families to walk or cycle to school.

We want to build dedicated and segregated cycle lanes, connect existing ones into a safer network along longer routes, and plug gaps in our towns and city. We also aim to modify existing and new road layouts to make them safe for cyclists and will look at establishing new links between home and workplaces – particularly for buses and bikes where the science jobs of the future are being created.

Bold changes aren’t easy but doing nothing isn’t an option. The prize is a city and county where we can all get around easily and affordably, in a way that is healthy and clean and does not damage our planet. Please share your ideas as we all travel on this journey to a cleaner, healthier, fairer Oxfordshire.

Cllr Enright is a member of the Fair Deal Alliance. It is made up of Labour & Cooperative, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors, and is the first administration without Conservatives since inception in 1889

How mobility hubs and shared transport can play a key role in the UK’s journey to net zero – Richard Dilks,  CoMoUK

How mobility hubs and shared transport can play a key role in the UK’s journey to net zero – Richard Dilks, CoMoUK

Richard Dilks, Chief Executive at CoMoUK, explains how mobility hubs and shared transport schemes can play a significant role in the UK’s journey to Net Zero by cutting congestion and carbon emissions while improving air quality and the nation’s health.


Richard Dilks, Chief Executive at CoMoUK

At Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK), we want to build on the strong growth in the shared transport sector to further extend its ability to deliver low carbon, lower cost sustainable transport options across the UK.

This is part of reducing dependency on privately-owned cars which are generally inefficiently used, costly to own or lease, take up a lot of space and are the major component of transport emissions in the UK.

Transport is in turn this country’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, producing more than a quarter of the UK’s total emissions. Its emissions have not fallen in a generation.

We can’t hope to meet our climate change targets without greater use of shared transport as part of a broader sustainable transport package of public transport and active travel too.

That’s why we would like to see car clubs, bike sharing, shared rides and demand responsive transport spread across rural, island, suburban and urban areas.

Part of this shift can come from mobility hubs, which have been hugely successful in transforming the lives of people and businesses in parts of Europe.

Mobility hubs bring public transport together with walking and cycling options and shared transport.

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ design, they can include community facilities such as cafés, fitness areas, green space, package collection points, Wi-Fi and phone charging, real-time journey planning information, walking areas and disabled access.

We believe these hubs can contribute to the goal of creating ‘20 minute neighbourhoods’, which enable people to live, learn and meet their needs within a 20 minute walk of their home.

They are common in a number of comparator countries such as Germany, Austria, Belgium and Norway as well as in many US cities.

Both the UK and Scottish governments are keen on these hubs, and the first CoMoUK -accredited one has already opened in a suburb of London and with plans underway for several in Scotland.

We believe the creation of more mobility hubs around the UK can help with meeting climate change targets, while also bringing energy and excitement to urban centres and providing new opportunities and connectivity for some of the country’s most deprived areas.

Benefits include reducing the dominance of private car use and the associated problems of congestion, carbon emissions, poor air quality and social exclusion.

They also offer convenience and choice with the possibility of seamless switches and improved links between different layers of transport.

Mobility hubs can lead to improved access for vulnerable users and can help to improve overall public transport networks by plugging gaps in connections.

Before the Covid pandemic, over two thirds of Scotland’s commuters drove to work by car or van, and 66 per cent of all car journeys in Scotland were single occupancy trips.

Government figures for England also suggest that 62 per cent of all car or van journeys were made by a lone driver in 2019, rising to 89 per cent for commuting journeys.

Persuading the public to transition from petrol and diesel cars to electric alternatives has long been talked up as a silver bullet.

But while they may be better for the environment, they are no less guilty of causing congestion and the manufacturing process is just as environmentally unfriendly.

Instead, we would like to see greater use of bike hire schemes, car clubs, ride sharing and demand responsive transport.

In a recent survey by CoMoUK, more than half of users of bike share schemes said they would have made their last trip by car or taxi if the option to hire a bike had not been available.

Meanwhile, our research finds that the number of people signed up to car clubs in Scotland is now at an all time high of 38,000.

To increase vehicle occupancy, we believe employers and large organisations can do more to incentivise ride sharing and carpooling for commuting journeys and business trips – particularly as employees begin to return to workplaces as Covid restrictions are lifted.



Richard Dilks is chief executive of the UK’s national shared transport charity Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK). It was established in 1999 and is dedicated to the public benefit of shared transport such as shared cars, bikes, e-scooters and rides.

Richard is speaking at Highways UK on 2-3 November about how mobility hubs and shared transport schemes can play a significant role in the UK’s journey to Net Zero

The real cost of electric cars – Claire Walters, Bus Users UK

The real cost of electric cars – Claire Walters, Bus Users UK

Claire Walters, chief executive of Bus Users UK, emphasises the importance of proper planning and infrastructure to prioritise public, shared and active transport to meet sustainability targets. 

The electrification of vehicles has become the key focus of government policy as the solution to transport decarbonisation in the war on climate change. The appeal, of course, is that it can be achieved without upsetting car-driving voters. But by focusing on electric vehicles, are we missing an opportunity to transform our roads and transport infrastructure, not just for private car users but for everyone?

It’s broadly accepted that electric vehicles have a lower carbon footprint over the course of their lifetime than traditional cars, but the picture is more nuanced than headlines might suggest. The rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars make them more energy-intensive to manufacture and charging them is largely reliant on the national grid which is still over 40% dependent on fossil fuels. The pollution from tyre and brake wear can be many times greater than exhaust emissions and the current approach to end-of-life battery disposal is less than sustainable.

In the long-term, electric vehicles will offer a more climate-friendly alternative to the internal combustion engine but there remains an elephant in the room – or rather an elephant currently blocking all major roads in our town and city centres: congestion.

Congestion not only increases pollution of both air and noise, it hampers the economic growth so vital to our post-pandemic recovery. Getting people out of private cars and onto public, shared and active travel modes is the only effective and sustainable way to tackle pollution and congestion, improving our roads not just for the people who use them but for those who live and work alongside them. Public Health England attributes up to 36,000 deaths per year in the UK to respiratory disease, lung cancer and cardiovascular illness as a direct result of air pollution. And it’s not just our health that is being compromised. The Global Traffic Scorecard for pre-Covid 2019 showed that, on average, UK road users wasted 115 hours each year in congestion (149 hours in London). That’s over two average working weeks spent sitting in traffic, at a total cost to the economy of £6.9 billion.

According to the Government’s National Bus Strategy, buses are the ‘easiest, cheapest and quickest’ way to improve transport and with one double decker bus able to take up to 75 cars off the road, it’s easy to see why. With the climate crisis so high on the agenda and the personal and economic costs of congestion and pollution growing, we need to change our thinking. Rather than switching people from one form of private transport to another, we need to actively discourage private car use and focus instead on public, shared and active travel. Getting people out of private cars creates a virtuous circle, as reducing the number of cars on our roads improves road safety and speeds up journey times for alternative forms of transport making them more reliable and, given their cost, more attractive to everyone, including private car users.

Public and active travel improves the health and wellbeing of the people who use it. It also reduces the financial burdens on the rest of society associated with poor health and social exclusion. A new report from the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) puts the health cost of England’s most deprived communities at nearly £30 billion annually while the Mental Health Foundation, London School of Economics and Political Science estimates the cost of poor mental health in the UK to be nearly £120 billion a year. There is a direct correlation between access to transport, health and deprivation so as well as tackling climate change and congestion, sustainable public and active travel have a vital role to play in the levelling-up agenda. Good public transport reduces isolation and loneliness and improves access to life’s opportunities through education, employment, social and leisure activities and, of course, health services.

The current focus on electric vehicles will not only contribute to congestion, noise pollution and, certainly in the short-term, air pollution, but risks widening the wealth gap between those who can afford a private electric vehicle and those who can’t. Policies like tolls and congestion charges widen the gap still further.

But whether you can afford the expense or not, without proper planning and infrastructure to prioritise public, shared and active transport, you will still be wasting hours of your time sitting in the same gridlocked traffic as the rest of us.

About Bus Users

Bus Users campaigns for inclusive, accessible transport. We are the only approved Alternative Dispute Resolution Body for the bus and coach industry and the designated body for handling complaints under the Passenger Rights in Bus and Coach Legislation. We are also part of a Sustainable Transport Alliance, a group working to promote the benefits of public, shared and active travel.

Alongside our complaints work we investigate and monitor services and work with operators and transport providers to improve services for everyone. We run events, carry out research, respond to consultations, speak at government select committees and take part in industry events to make sure the voice of the passenger is heard.

Bus Users UK Charitable Trust Ltd is a registered charity (1178677 and SC049144) and a Company Limited by Guarantee (04635458).


Claire Walters, Chief Executive of Bus Users UK, will be speaking at Highways UK on 2-3 November at the NEC in Birmingham

For more information on the work of Bus Users UK, visit their website or email

Questions about the value of investment in roads – David Metz, UCL Centre for Transport Studies

Questions about the value of investment in roads – David Metz, UCL Centre for Transport Studies

David Metz, honorary professor at the UCL Centre for Transport Studies, outlines his suggested actions to inform future investment decisions when looking ahead to Road Investment Strategy (RIS3)

The Department for Transport has begun to plan its third Road Investment Strategy (RIS3), the investment programme for the Strategic Road Network (SRN) for 2025-2030. There are a number of headwinds for road investment, in particular safety concerns from the loss of the hard shoulder of smart motorways, and the Net Zero decarbonisation objective.

There is also a question about the economic benefits of adding capacity to major roads. Recent cases of post-opening evaluation of smart motorway schemes showed gross discrepancies between traffic forecasts and projected economic benefits. The M25 Junctions 23-27 all-lane running scheme yielded reduced travel times one year after opening compared with before, but this time saving was negated by year two on account of unanticipated growth in traffic volumes. The M1 J10-13 dynamic hard shoulder running scheme generated lower speeds five years after opening compared with before, resulting in a negative benefit-cost ratio. These findings are consistent with the maxim that we can’t build our way out of congestion, which we know from experience to be generally true.

Inspection of the reports of the traffic and economic modelling of these and other road investments shows substantial projected economic benefits from travel time savings to business users. There are also time savings to local users, commuters and others, but these are entirely offset by increased vehicle operating costs – as motorists reroute to the motorway to save a few minutes travel time at the expense of increased fuel costs.

I suspect that this local rerouting is under-estimated in the traffic modelling generally. While long distance users of a motorway would be unlikely to change their route on account of local congestion, local users have the flexibility to do so. The wide adoption of ‘digital navigation’ (satnav location + digital maps + routing algorithms) that recommends shortest journey time routes increases the opportunities for local users to take advantage of increased motorway capacity. The screenshot from Google Maps illustrates the scope for rerouting of local traffic in the vicinity of the M25 J-23-27 smart motorway scheme.

David Metz Blog

Our understanding is limited because the evaluation of the outcome of a road scheme is based on monitoring total traffic volumes and speeds, whereas the modelling estimates the benefits to different classes of road user – cars, LGVs, HGVs, business users, non-business commuters and other local users. We could well have outcomes for which total traffic was exactly as forecast but where the composition was quite different from that projected, with more local trips at nil economic benefit displacing the intended longer distance business users, resulting in poor value for money.

Because we do not understand how the composition of traffic changes after a scheme is opened, we are not able to better calibrate our models to improve future traffic forecasts.

More generally, the widespread adoption of digital navigation is changing how the road network is used. The Department for Transport has substantially revised upwards its estimates of traffic on minor roads. This is most likely due to digital navigation making minor routes accessible to those without local knowledge, with the main impact adjacent to congested major roads where a minor road offers an alternative.

The impact of digital navigation has been strangely neglected by road authorities, transport analysts, practitioners, policy makers and researchers. The providers of digital navigation are secretive about the algorithms they use and their performance. The overall effect is to increase the capacity of the road network, but at the cost of more traffic on minor roads that are well suited to active travel. The lack of liaison between providers of navigation services and road authorities means that we are missing opportunities to improve outcomes for road users while reducing environmental harms, in particular when the network is under greatest stress on account of peak traffic volumes or major incidents.

So, in preparation for RIS3, I suggest actions to be initiated to inform future investment decisions:

  1. Develop a more granular methodology for evaluation of road scheme outcomes, to understand the use made of additional capacity by local users.
  2. Develop a better understanding of the impact of digital navigation on traffic patterns, to improve both modelling and network operations.

The roads sector needs to shift its focus from enlarging civil engineering structures to the digital management of traffic flows. Aviation exemplifies how to make best use of assets, both airlines and air traffic control optimising operations, with only exceptional additions to runway and terminal capacity

David Metz is an honorary professor at the UCL Centre for Transport Studies and will be speaking at Highways UK 2022 at the NEC in Birmingham on 2-3 November.



Hydrogen power is coming – let’s keep the Midlands at the heart of UK freight and logistics – Richard Bradley, Midlands Connect

Hydrogen power is coming – let’s keep the Midlands at the heart of UK freight and logistics – Richard Bradley, Midlands Connect

Richard Bradley, Head of Strategy at Midlands Connect, outlines how the Midlands is ready to take the lead on the UK’s clean energy revolution when it comes to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.


Richard Bradley, Head of Strategy, Midlands Connect

Energy prices are sky high right now and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw pump prices had reached an eye-watering £1.76 a litre. Fortunately, I’ve already moved to a plug-in electric vehicle and with EV prices improving all the time, it’s clear that change is truly on the horizon.

We know that the age of petrol and diesel powered transport is coming to an end and coupled with the current energy crisis, switching our fuel sources feels very timely. Government has committed to fully carbon neutral transport by 2050 and green technology is already moving fast in the car industry, with public transport operators also finding new ways of making their vehicles zero emission. But what are the viable alternative fuels for long-distance HGVs? With heavy goods vehicles accounting for around 21% of the Midlands’ road-based emissions overall, solutions are needed.

Electric vehicles dominate the green vehicle market today but we urgently need to diversify our power sources for moving freight, in order to maintain a strong and resilient transport network into the future. Midlands Connect is planning infrastructure which ensures hydrogen power can find its home in our region and help provide a route-map to clean energy alternatives across the country.

One option is hydrogen fuelled vehicles generating their own electricity through a chemical reaction inside the vehicle’s internal fuel cell. At Midlands Connect, we think hydrogen presents a promising offer for several reasons; it feels similar to petrol refuelling, can be easily stored at key locations, has minimal safety issues and fast refuelling without drawing electricity straight from the grid.

You may recall the popular book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, which many of the Midlands Connect team love to read to their children at bedtime, where we’re reminded that:

‘We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’

Just like in this famous book, you can’t go over us, under us or through us, so it’s hardly surprising that the Midlands has become the UK’s premier location for warehousing, freight and logistics and is therefore a fantastic candidate for trialling hydrogen HGVs and refuelling.

40% of the Midlands’ economic activity comes from the manufacturing and distribution industries and we are home to around a third of the UK’s warehouse space. Combining this with a long history in the automotive industry, the region has also become a hotbed for academic research in transport.

Now of course we’re a little bit biased, but we’re not the only people who recognise why the Midlands is an ideal location for developing alternative fuels. The Department for Transport agrees and Baroness Vere has asked us to become the lead sub-national transport body for alternative fuels.

We link the north and south, connecting key routes and UK gateways at air, sea and free ports and our planned improvements will increase their resilience. Our development of a network of hydrogen refuelling, recharging and modal interchange hubs at central locations between the region’s two airports will connect key centres for the production of sand and gravel, food and many other heavy goods vital to the UK’s economy.

The Midlands is already leading on hydrogen technology in the UK, with great research centres such as MIRA and Tyseley Energy Park, as well as JCB, who are developing hydrogen internal combustion engines and have recently signed a large deal to build hydrogen construction vehicles right here in the Midlands.

Hydrogen fuel technology for heavy goods vehicles is still relatively new and Government is now seeking suitable locations to test hydrogen trucks through their zero-emission road freight trial funding competition, as outlined in 2021’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

The Midlands was a successful bidder with the ‘H2GVMids’ entry, developed in collaboration with Midlands Engine and led by EDF and the Energy Research Accelerator. The H2GVMids partnership includes businesses from the green hydrogen and hydrogen truck supply chain, as well as numerous hauliers, all highly motivated to kickstart this new technology. If successful, H2GVMids could receive some £30 million funding to run truck trials over the next 5 years and build on the Midlands’ proud history in the automotive, freight and logistics industries.

Today, the world of hydrogen technology is filled with questions, variables and possibilities, from how hydrogen is produced and where it comes from, to switching trucks, buses and trains to this fuel. In the Midlands, we stand united and ready to take the lead on the UK’s clean energy revolution. We can’t wait to harness the power of hydrogen.

To read more about Midlands Connect’s strategy for alternative fuels, visit our website to read our recent report:

Richard Bradley is Head of Strategy at Midlands Connect. 

Embedding a decarbonisation culture into the highways sector

Embedding a decarbonisation culture into the highways sector

We need to see a cultural change towards approaches to carbon, says John Dixon, Jacobs’ Vice President and Highways Market Director, and we should take inspiration from the transformationl improvements in safety achieved within the sector over the last 20 years

Over the last 20 years we can take pride in the transformational improvements made in health, safety and wellbeing in the highways sector. Key to this has been the significant investments in cultural safety programmes. This has driven a mindset change throughout the value chain, with so many more people now choosing to do the right thing and lead the way on safety, regardless of their level of experience or seniority. These were ‘no regrets’ investments that in many cases have yielded delivery and bottom-line business benefits, as well as improved safety performance.

Just like safety, carbon reduction now demands the full and absolute focus of the industry over the next thirty years, but critically over the rest of this decade. There is so much we can do together to reduce carbon emissions in highway infrastructure solutions, and we have the talent to do it.

If we look at how safety has now become embedded into organisations’ business strategies and operations, we can take inspiration to do the same with carbon. Many of you will be familiar with having a ‘safety moment’ at the start of each meeting. This is one relatively small feature of a typical safety programme that places health, safety and wellbeing management at its heart. Perhaps the next time you’re holding a meeting you could think about also having a ‘carbon moment,’ and help place carbon reduction at the centre of your organisation?

In addition to safety moments other features of the safety culture change architecture include leadership commitment training, all staff orientation training, staff-led action groups, observation records/’don’t walk bys’ and stand downs, amongst others. Drawing on this existing architecture we can make a running start to embed carbon management in our organisations, crucial to driving environmental, social and economic growth within our sector.

There are some challenges to this, with few organisations implementing transformational change in the same way. This has been the case with safety management. Imagine how much faster it might have been if everyone adopted the same approach, whether that be highway authorities/clients or suppliers, especially when the goal of zero accidents or harm has been so universally sought by the sector.

Adoption of a common standard to frame our investment and transformation therefore makes perfect sense for carbon, as net zero is the goal we are all striving for. PAS 2080 ‘Carbon Management in Infrastructure’ is increasingly being adopted and promoted in the highways sector. It provides a systematic way for managing whole life carbon in infrastructure delivery that the industry could use to accelerate improvement. This is a flexible standard that can be applied to different project types, sizes and stages. If we use it as a means to facilitate consistency and collaboration at pace we stand a better chance of making a difference on time!

The sooner we see a cultural change towards approaches to carbon, the sooner we can meet our net zero targets, and ensure better business performance, reduced costs, increased competitiveness and innovation. We need to build on what we’ve achieved so far, and make sure our highways are fit for a truly sustainable world.

John Dixon is speaking at Highways UK in the Main Theatre panel Getting serious: climate action towards net zero which takes place at 10.40 on 3 November. Other panelists include Rachel Skinner, Ben Harris, Jamie Bardot and Elliot Shaw.

Smart cities need smart highways and roads

Smart cities need smart highways and roads

Transport is one of the main contributors to carbon emissions in London and to meet the Mayor’s ambitious target to make the capital a net zero city by 2030 we will need to dramatically increase smart and electric transport alternatives – and not just electric cars! And to achieve this, there is a pressing need to consider the role of highways and streets within the emerging digital ecosystem, says Nathan Pierce, Head of Smart London and Sharing Cities at the Greater London Authority.


nathan pierce
Nathan Pierce, Head of Smart London and Sharing Cities, Greater London Authority

Our highways are connectors; to, from and within our cities. Today, cities are under increasing pressure to develop more effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and smart infrastructure is essential for this modernisation. A good example is smart mobility. The demand for intelligent mobility solutions that make it easier for people and goods to be transported to, from and through cities is growing. And so many cities have stepped up to the challenge, working across sectors to find solutions that work for their citizens.

Our major international smart cities venture – Sharing Cities – is addressing some of the most pressing urban challenges facing urban areas today. Three lighthouse cities (London, Lisbon, Milan) have implemented a range of green tech and data services in close collaboration with three fellow cities (Bordeaux, Burgas, Warsaw) to test out the latest thinking and to scale up what works.

After drawing on nearly €25 million in EU funding, the project has triggered nearly €270 million in investment in an effort to expand a smart strategy that involves energy use, low carbon transport and data management. 34 partners in Sharing Cities from the private sector – both large and small – public sector and academic institutions have collaborated to develop workable business models for smart technologies that can be scaled up and replicated across other UK and European cities. In doing so they have supported the growth of the green tech market.

All six cities have demonstrated the benefits that using green tech and working together can have on carbon reduction and service delivery. In the first phase we implemented building retrofits, e-mobility, sustainable energy management systems, smart street infrastructure (such as smart lampposts), urban sharing platforms and digital incentivisation applications. Using the learnings from lighthouse cities, fellow cities co-designed, validated and implemented similar solutions and models within their own city contexts.

In the world of mobility, we have managed to shift the dial on how our cities approach mobility as a service and shared transport solutions. We have deployed over ten mobility islands across our cities and demonstrated the contribution they make. We have deployed 1,000s of publicly owned shared bikes which have led to improvements in cycling infrastructure, especially in Lisbon. We have converted entire municipal fleets to electric vehicles with very positive results. And we have tested a whole range of parking sensors and traffic management technologies that can help us to reach our climate targets.

We know that this technology can have a real impact, now we want to reach out to various sectors and boroughs across London to understand how we can scale up what works and link in with existing transit plans.

Nathan Pierce is Head of Smart London and Sharing Cities, Greater London Authority. Nathan is speaking on the Big Thinking Stage at Highways UK (12.50, 3 November). He will further explore how highways and transport fit within the smart city context and London’s 2030 net-zero ambitions, while providing latest insights from the international Sharing Cities programme.

Electric vehicle charging: why it can be likened to the wild west

Electric vehicle charging: why it can be likened to the wild west

Setting net zero targets is the easy bit. The difficult bit is all about the practical measures to get from here to there, says Sir Dieter Helm, Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford. And when it comes to electric vehicle charging the lack of an overarching framework risks turning a competitive opportunity into the wild west

Dieter helm
Professor Sir Dieter Helm

Setting net zero targets, especially when they are 30 years away, is the easy bit. The difficult bit is all about the practical measures to get from here to there. That is all the more challenging when it means tackling the long-neglected sources of emissions—notably transport, heating and agriculture. By setting an intermediary target to stop selling diesel and petrol cars, the government has willed the end; now it has to will the means, and especially when the target is less than ten years away.

Putting aside both the environmental problems that electric cars bring and alternatives like hydrogen, the urgent immediate step is to have a nationwide efficient car-charging system. We probably need much of this to be in place within the next five years.

You might think that with such an imperative over such a short timescale, there would be a national car charging infrastructure plan; that it would be designed around the electricity grid and the regional distribution networks; and that there would be a core utility, backed by a regulatory asset base, with a capital expenditure programme to deliver the necessary infrastructure by a specified date.

Not a bit of it. It’s being driven bottom up, by competing companies trying to grab the best bits of the market without an overarching framework. It is a wild west, driven by the conflicting commercial interests and, in the case of the oil companies, the protection and enhancements of their existing fossil-fuel charging stations. Electricity supply companies are in on the act, and, again, this reflects the same sort of commercial incentives that brought us the shambles of the smart meter rollout. Meanwhile the car companies have no interest in standardising the batteries, and are unwilling to contemplate the obvious answer—to switch batteries when charging is necessary.

Given the sheer scale of the challenges and the urgency, it would be quite hard to make this up. My hunch is that when we get to 2030, the target will be pushed back. Nor is this unique to electric vehicle charging. The same sort of shambolic bottom-up approach is being pushed in home heating, somehow imagining that banning gas boilers is going to magic up an alternative heating system. When it comes to agriculture, government is not really trying at all.

It could all be so much better. There could have a much better chance of meeting the deadlines, and because it could be much more efficient, it could be a lot cheaper. The way to start is with the end game: a universal service obligation that provides all the citizens with access to electric charging. With the end in mind, the next step is to sketch out what a national charging system, as a core utility, might look like. It does not have to fill in all the details. These will need to be flexible. But it does need to sort out the main bits: the charging backbone and how this sits with the electric networks. This needs a system operator, and it needs a utility structure and a regulatory framework to ensure that investment costs are recovered. It does not need a single company to actually do the works; that can be competitive. But it does need a plan to work to.

The most likely outcome is that the government will keep on trying to make competition deliver a natural monopoly, until it is obvious that it is failing. Even then it may not give up. But, in the end, we will have a national charging infrastructure—just too late, and too costly.


Professor Sir Dieter Helm will expand on these ideas in his contribution to this year’s Highways UK, taking place at the NEC on 3/4 November. Free to attend, book your place now

And for further insight check out Dieter’s latest book

Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change.

The future of a sustainable highway is now

The future of a sustainable highway is now

Products that can help to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of laying a road surface are available now, but too many highway authorities are still hesitant to try new technologies, says Tarmac’s national technical director, Brian Kent

Warm mix asphalts which are manufactured and laid at around 40 degrees less than traditional hot material have been performing well for many years, but still only represent around 5% of market share in the UK.

Two years ago, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Highways concluded that the use of warm mix asphalt can reduce CO2 emissions associated with asphalt production by as much as 15%.

The case for warm mix was strengthened in 2019 after the introduction of guidance for warm mix into the specification for highway works, which many local authorities follow.

But still, the quantities of lower temperature asphalts specified remain low.

It now needs senior industry and political support to champion materials such as warm mix asphalt if the UK’s transportation sector is to meet its 2050 carbon reduction target.

If warm mix became the default for asphalt specified across the country, then overnight, we could see around 70 or 80% of asphalt installed in this country being mixed and laid warm.

There is also a need for more collaboration between local authorities to allow a product deemed suitable in one area to be readily accepted in another. At the moment, some local authorities are happy to specify new materials, whereas others will only agree if they carry out trials and monitor its performance over five years or more.

Another highway development that is not being exploited as much as it could is for binder and surface courses to be replaced as one homogeneous material, rather than in separate passes. By laying single-layer materials, you make a considerable sustainability saving by reducing time on site and the associated operations.

A more recent introduction to our sustainable products portfolio is rubber modified asphalt, which incorporates recycled worn vehicle tyres into the carriageway.

The sector’s apparent reluctance to embrace innovative thinking is at odds with that of the public. Technology has always quickly been embraced by consumers, over a wide range of industries, including mobile phones and cars. But when it comes to our industry people can be reluctant to take on what they perceive as a risk. Historical or procurement barriers restrict innovation uptake in terms of what has been specified, with a lack of flexibility to change and embrace innovation.

While environmental awareness is growing in the sector, cost still appears to be the main driving factor behind product specification. However, just because a product is greener and can be slightly more expensive per tonne it does not mean that the whole life cost is more expensive – by reducing site operations and extending pavement life, costs can be reduced.

Brian Kent is National Technical Director at Tarmac. Tarmac is sponsoring the Civils and Materials Theatre at Highways UK at the NEC on 3/4 November 2021