The last few days alone have been ones of breath-taking constitutional change in the UK, marked by the saddening passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – no less than the longest-reigning British monarch in history – but also the arrival of a new Prime Minister, in the form of ex-Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss.
Ms Truss claimed the top job in British politics after emerging victorious in the final round of the Conservative Party leadership contest against fellow hopeful, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.
However, what particularly captured the attention of many a transport planning professional, was the new Prime Minister’s mention in her 6th September speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street of infrastructure priorities that may come to shape much of her time in office.
What was referenced in Ms Truss’s Downing Street statement?
Ms Truss touched on various subjects in her maiden speech as Prime Minister in front of the iconic Downing Street door.
She paid tribute to her predecessor Boris Johnson, stating that history would “see him as a hugely consequential Prime Minister”, but also saluted the UK population’s “fundamental belief in freedom, in enterprise, and in fair play.” She also referenced the challenges of the “severe global headwinds caused by Russia’s appalling war in Ukraine and the aftermath of COVID.”
Also notable, however, were the two pledges she made in her speech to build new roads in the UK.
The new Prime Minister set out infrastructure investment as central to her three-pronged plan to get the UK through its present troubles, declaring that as well as seeking more investment and reducing the burden on families, “we need to build roads, homes and broadband faster.”
She made a further mention of roads later in her speech, vowing: “We will get spades in the ground to make sure people are not facing unaffordable energy bills, and we will also make sure that we are building hospitals, schools, roads, and broadband.”
What could the new Government’s commitment to road building look like in practice?
These are interesting times for the UK’s road network, in more ways than one. Most national road spending is concentrated on the strategic road network, and the next road investment strategy (RIS) is entering its ‘decision phase’ (2023 to 2024).
With Ms Truss having seemingly ruled out an early election with her declaration of aiming to win for the party “in 2024”, her Government will have a central role to play in what the next RIS looks like.
Last year, the Department for Transport pinpointed 32 projects to be developed by National Highways for funding consideration in RIS3. Although one of those schemes – the A21 safety package – has already begun, National Highways said in its most recent delivery plan that multiple other projects in the present RIS have been pushed back.
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