Planned major road network for North is ‘big funding ask’

The size of the planned major road network (MRN) for the North poses a funding challenge for both the body that has proposed it and the Government, a key figure behind the MRN concept has told Highways.

Last month Transport for the North (TfN) published an initial Major Roads Report, which ‘introduces the concept of a Major Road Network for the North. This incorporates the Strategic Road Network, plus other major pan-Northern routes that connect the North’s important economic centres’.

Under the proposal, local highways authorities and Highways England would retain their current roles and responsibilities to manage and operate their respective sections of the MRN.

It identifies strategic gaps that lead to an ‘initial portfolio of strategic connectivity priorities’, which the sub-regional transport body (STB) said will enable it to identify and prioritise additional investment in the MRN.

The proposed network connects approximately 200 important economic centres across the North and would be 4,908 miles long. This is nearly twice the length of an MRN for the North in a report published last year by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, which first set out the concept of an MRN for England.

Phil Carey, one of the authors of the Rees Jeffreys report, told Highways: ‘I’m very pleased that they are very firm on the fact that it has to be an integrated network – it’s not just about the non-SRN [Strategic Road Network] bits.’

However, he added: ‘I think there is a big challenge here for TfN and [the Department for Transport]. If as we proposed the MRN concept is the gateway to getting more central government funding for these roads, an MRN on the scale of TFN’s version is going to be a very big ask for central funding.

‘It strikes me that there is going to have to be some sort of prioritisation if this idea of a more extensive MRN catches on for other STB areas as well; there has to be prioritisation within that by the STB – there are more important roads within that MRN which currently have first claim on any central government funding.

‘I still claim that the MRN at the level that we identified is a suitable match, roughly for likely available funding. I’d be less confident that the much bigger MRN that TfN are now talking about would be the same.

‘The ball is really in DfT’s court now to decide what steer it wants to give all the STBs and beyond. My understanding is they are very definitely looking at a major road network proposition. I’m slightly concerned that they are thinking of it as a local roads issue, quite separate from the SRN but both TfN and Rees Jeffreys are saying, no, it’s got to be an integrated concept to be of any real value.’

The TfN report puts forward a definition of an MRN as ‘the road network that is most economically important to securing the North’s productivity and growth; both now, and in the future’.

Where the Rees Jeffreys report used traffic volumes as a proxy for the economic and connectivity significance of key corridors, the TfN proposal states: ‘We have deliberately moved away from an analysis of traffic flow and other traffic engineering metrics in seeking to determine the scale of the MRN.’

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