The state of the country’s road surfaces, the introduction of new technology and the need to reduce air pollution from our roads were the hot topics of this year’s Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference 2015.
Steve Agg FCILT, Chief Executive, CILT, chaired the Institute’s fringe event in Manchester on Tuesday 6th October, and a panel of leading road network experts discussed their ‘Vision for the future of our roads’.
Panellists included: Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State; Steve Gooding, CILT Vice President and Chair, RAC Foundation; Anthony Smith, Chief Executive, Transport Focus; and Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Andrew Jones MP said: “The road networks act as the arteries to our country and how businesses and people work. We have significantly under invested in our road network over the years, but now we have our first road investment strategy in place which is a long term investment into our network.”
Jones described the current investment in road networks as ‘stop-start’ but assured delegates “we are now going to break out of that approach. Our roads have reached the point of decay and we are now on a journey to improve and enhance our roads.”
Jones called for the future of our roads to be more predictable, more resilient, cater for a greater capacity of road users and to make a comprehensive road network that benefits all road users.
Jones went on to announce that the Government was considering rolling out a budget of £3bn for a second Road Investment Strategy and that this would be launched later in the year. The Minister also pointed out that the development of the Hypothecated Road fund was evidence of the Government’s commitment to reforming the road network.
Anthony Smith applauded the five year road investment plan that has been put in place but stressed that there is a lot of work ahead to improve a road network that is need of significant resurfacing. “The problem is as much about tarmac as it is about information,” he said.
“Research that Transport Focus carried out demonstrated that the road users’ biggest priority was for the improvement of the road surfaces.”
Steve Gooding expressed concerns for our current road network struggling to cater for the capacity of vehicles. He said that approximately two-thirds of people going to work travel by car and showed concern that the behind the times development of the country’s road network is struggling under this pressure.
He warned: “There’s an awful lot of work to do to fix our road surfaces. We are currently building roads in the same way that we did 100 years ago. There is far more that we can do today.”
Shaun Spiers welcomed the panellists’ determination to improve existing roads but reminded those in attendance that roads affect far more than just those people travelling in cars: “This is a broad subject that affects everyone. Almost all car journeys start or end in towns and there has to be a better focus on managing demand in urban areas.”
Spears reminded us of the implications of accepting this rapidly increasing demand placed on the roadways. He warned that a ‘car concept’ would soon run through the country if the Government’s big focus on big infrastructure continued to have an impact on local services.
Spears said: “We seem to make developments first without considering our roads. We will see more car-centric estates being built if we fail to focus on connecting our residents.”
With regards to information provision, technology and the smart highways of the future, Gooding said: “We are currently building smart motorways that are both smart and dumb at the same time. There has to be a better way to give information to our drivers to ensure an efficient journey.”
Smith called for an ‘information revolution’ to put the road user back in control and make drivers feel connected to what is happening across the network.
The Transport Minister fielded several questions about emissions and the air quality that our roads create. Speaking of emissions he said: “We must keep our traffic moving in order to reduce emissions. Technology and the development of driverless and electronic vehicles can benefit air quality and I want to place Britain at the heart of this research, making sure our infrastructure isn’t trapped building for the technology of the past.”
The panel then responded to delegates' questions in a lively Q+A session which included topics such as the skills shortage, encouraging an active walking and cycling culture, and the inevitability of road pricing.
The CILT fringe event was organised in partnership with the Transport Hub, a group of transport organisations working together to promote the crucial issues affecting the way goods and movements move around the world at the party conferences.