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Major roads projects at risk of cancellation or delay, says NAO

The threat of cancellation hangs over a number of projects in the government’s Roads Investment Strategy, a report has revealed.

A National Audit Office study into the £15bn investment plan found that at least 16 projects that posed a risk to value for money were being reviewed by Highways England and the Department for Transport, with options including cancellations, delays, design changes or merging of projects.

The report also revealed that Highways England had already developed options to push back the start dates of up to 19 projects into the early years of the second Roads Investment Strategy from 2020.

The government unveiled the first RIS in December 2014, setting out plans to spend more than £15bn on the UK’s strategic road network over five years.

However, after little over two years the NAO has raised serious questions over deliverability and cost.

The report said that while the five-year RIS was a significant improvement in the efficient management of the road network, it was put together too quickly and this led to risks in terms of value for money and deliverability.

“As at February 2017, Highways England had identified up to 16 projects which present a risk to value for money,” the study added.

“Highways England and the Department [for Transport] are exploring a number of ways to manage this risk, including revising project design, merging projects on the same stretch of road, cancelling projects and delaying projects to enable further assessment of benefits.”

NAO head Amyas Morse warned that Highways England needed to “take decisive action” or risk seeing the shortcomings in the current strategy being carried over into the next investment period.

Highways England said there were currently no plans to cancel any of the schemes listed in the RIS programme.

It admitted that extra work may need to be carried out refining the scope and design of schemes and said an updated delivery plan would be published in June.

In 2014, the government promised that construction on 112 projects would begin before the end of March 2020.

The NAO raised fears over the timetable of work, with construction scheduled to start on 54 of the 112 projects within the final year of RIS.

The report also revealed that the forecast budget for the capital programme had increased by £189m.

Last month, Construction News revealed that only £2.2bn had so far been spent through Highways England’s £5bn Collaborative Delivery Framework.

Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “We are confident we will deliver our capital programme without overspending our budget.

“So far we have delivered nine schemes on time or ahead of schedule, with one of them, the M25 junction 30, opening in December 2016 six months earlier than planned.

“There are currently 17 schemes in construction and we are contributing £40m to a further 13 improvements that will unlock the opportunity to create 22,000 new homes and more than 34,000 jobs.

“We will be publishing our delivery plan update in June laying out the programme for the current year and again we expect to deliver all of the required work.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “This government is taking the big decisions for Britain’s future, and we are investing a record £15bn on road schemes which will cut congestion, speed up journeys, and boost the economy across the country.

“As this report acknowledges, we have made significant progress in managing our major roads more efficiently, and we are confident Highways England will deliver safe and reliable roads that deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

“We will consider the findings of this report.”

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