The genesis of our road networks

by | Aug 1, 2017 | News

In the beginning, there were…  paths and tracks; then came lanes and ridgeways; then along came turnpikes and streets; although arguably they were all just roads – mainly Unclassified but some Classified ‘C’, ‘B’, ‘A’, in rising importance, with some of those ‘A’ roads also categorised as ‘All Purpose’ Trunk Roads (APTR), which when combined with the ‘top’ tier of highways, the Motorways (which incidentally can also claim Trunk Road status!) make up the country’s Strategic Road Network (SRN). The SRN is under control of Highways England; all other roads being the responsibility of the relevant Local Highway Authority, of which there are a very great number. 

There are, of course, many other ways of grouping our roads – for freight, for buses, and of course, for Primary Routes. “What are they?” I hear some cry. ‘Primary Routes’ link ‘Primary Destinations’ thus forming the ‘Primary Route(s) Network’, or so I have been led to believe. 

For decades this has been part of the governing framework for the ‘Green Backed’ directional signs which provide such important guidance to those undertaking unfamiliar journeys on our country’s roads especially those who do not use a ‘Satnav’!

Confused? … I don’t blame you if you are!

Then a “Major Road Network” for England was created and launched at the Highways UK ‘Roads for a modern Britain’ event last November in Birmingham. All credit is due to David Quarmby, Phil Carey and their sponsors the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund for their excellent work in developing and publishing the concept of a network of roads to support and assist the development of country’s national and regional economies. 

After extensive consultation, especially with the local authorities, 3,800 miles of ‘A’ roads controlled by local authorities were identified in David and Phil’s report and proposed to be added to the 4,200 miles of the existing SRN to form the 8,000 miles Major Road Network (MRN).

The really good news is that the Government has embraced the principles of the MRN Report and is now factoring it into its proposals to allocate the monies collected, and ring-fenced, from the Vehicle Excise Duty – better known to many as the ‘Road Fund Tax’ (£5.8bn in 2016/17). Thus, for the local authorities concerned there should be a substantial source of ‘new’ funds for their elements of the MRN eventually becoming available to them. 

So far, so good. I do, however, have, a few observations and pleas to make to the ‘Powers That Be On High’:

1) Can all involved please consider, maintain, operate and improve the MRN consistently as a coherent single network e.g. for winter ‘gritting’. 

2) The local highway authorities concerned are, in general, so short of cash that they may not be able to appropriately maintain their elements of the MRN to a consistent standard. Hopefully the allocation of the new funds will be allowed to help them do so. Pot holes on the MRN would not, I think, be a good idea.

3) The MRN would be likely to benefit from being an identifiable coherent network. Fortunately, it already encompasses significant parts of the Primary Route Network. Is it time to revisit the Primary Route Network and the mysteries and obscurities governing the use of ‘Green Back’ directional signs?

4) Could some way be found so that the consistent deployment and operation of roadside technology on the MRN be facilitated and accelerated?

5) Hopefully the additionl funds will not be just allocated for by-passes and major improvements but to deal with safety and other issues which impede the MRN from being the route to economic growth that its creators, supporters and advocates intended.  

So that’s how things have rapidly evolved in this particular area since the launch at last year’s Highways UK conference sessions. Not bad, I hope you will agree! 

What exciting new developments and announcements can we expect at this year’s Highways UK national event on 8/9 November, again to be held in Birmingham? It is a bit too early yet to tell but make sure you are there so that you don’t miss out and are fully up to date on ALL that is new in our industry!

Derek Turner is co-chair of the Highways UK advisory board and a former deputy chief executive of the Highways Agency.



Derek Turner

Derek Turner – Co-chair Highways UK Advisory Board