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Annual Report 2020

We believe that connecting people builds communities, creates opportunities and helps the nation thrive

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Highways England has made great progress in the first road period (2015–20). We can be pleased with what we have achieved in this final year, and we recognise and embrace the significant challenges to come in the next five-year road period and beyond.

Jim O’Sullivan, Chief Executive
Read the full message from our Chief Executive

Highways at a glance

Government’s Road investment strategy (RIS1), which covered the first road period from 2015–20, represented the biggest investment in England’s roads in a generation. With funding of £15.2 billion, we have made significant progress in operating, maintaining and improving our roads, which are some of the very safest in the world.

Our delivery at a glance

£6.3bn invested in road improvements
67 schemes completed or under construction
36 schemes opened for traffic
370 lane miles of additional capacity added
£1.4bn of efficiency savings achieved
113 safety schemes completed

Our social impact at a glance

124 biodiversity schemes completed
1,174 noise schemes completed
260 flood vulnerable locations mitigated
160 cycling schemes completed
45,000 new homes supported
44,000 new jobs supported

This year, Highways England spent £4.5 billion to operate, maintain and enhance our network, which is the most we have ever invested in the SRN in a single year. It means that, with the help of our supply chain, we have invested over £12 million every single day.

Total spend in 2019–20 £4.5bn 2018–19: £3.8bn
Efficiencies generated £600m 2018–19: £362m
National £1,435m 2018–19: £1,109m
(including PFI service payments, national projects and support costs)
North West £337m 2018–19: £335m
North East £305m 2018–19: £304m
East £481m 2018–19: £591m
South West £204m 2018–19: £158m
Midlands £711m 2018–19: £626m
South East £1,042m 2018–19: £627m

Our eight KPIs provide a framework against which we have monitored our progress across the last year, and across the first road period as a whole. Our results for 2019–20 show that we have met the majority of our commitments, with further work needed in some areas.

Our regional impact

In the first road period, we have invested across the country to drive improvements and bring benefits to our customers.

We have built new roads, maintained and improved existing ones, and kept our customers and the country’s vital transport arteries moving safely. We are viewed as global leaders in road building and maintenance, and our roads are some of the very safest in the world. Our work has been underpinned by our three imperatives: safety; customer service; and delivery.

2015–20 investment map

One of our key successes in this financial year was our £1.3 billion A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme. We completed the 12-mile bypass between Swavesey and Ellington in December, a year ahead of schedule. The rest of the scheme opened for traffic in May 2020, eight months early and on budget.

uk map

North West

Major schemes

Now completed
In construction
In development
  • Over 60 miles of smart motorways
  • Biggest increase in capacity in the region since 1971
  • Key east-west and north-south links upgraded to smart motorways
  • Reduced congestion and improved journey times with, for example, the M6 junctions 16 to 19 smart motorway saving 30 minutes’ travel time at peaks
  • Over 150 noise important areas mitigated
  • Over 3,500 new homes supported
  • Over 14,600 jobs generated
  • 48 cycle and walking schemes completed

Yorkshire and the North East

Major schemes

Now completed
In construction
In development
  • £350 million project to improve the A63 Castle Street in Hull
  • Over 65 lane miles added
  • Increased capacity along with improved motorways, interchanges and access to the Port of Immingham
  • Comprehensive review of connectivity
  • Over 140 noise important areas mitigated
  • Over 8,800 new homes supported
  • Over 9,200 jobs generated
  • 24 cycle and walking schemes completed


Major schemes

Now completed
In construction
In development
  • Over 160 lane miles added
  • Schemes opened for traffic have eased congestion and supported local economic growth
  • Major routes upgraded to smart motorways
  • Improved links from Birmingham to London and Manchester
  • Major improvement work started at key strategic junctions
  • Over 260 noise important areas mitigated
  • Over 17,300 new homes supported
  • Over 9,900 jobs generated
  • 25 cycle and walking schemes completed


Major schemes

Now completed
In construction
In development
At options stage
  • Over 11 lane miles added
  • £1.3 billion upgrade to the A14 in its final year of construction, with the 12-mile bypass between Swavesey and Ellington completed a year ahead of schedule
  • Major upgrades to the A47 and A428 in development
  • Over 175 noise important areas mitigated
  • 34 cycle and walking schemes completed

South West

Major schemes

Now completed
In construction
In development
  • £500 million further investment in the A303
  • Over seven lane miles added
  • A30 Chiverton to Carland Cross scheme started, supporting economic growth across the South West
  • Working on dual carriageways for Cornwall (A358) and Gloucestershire (A417)
  • Over 165 noise important areas mitigated
  • Over 11,900 new homes supported
  • Over 9,500 jobs generated
  • 14 cycle and walking schemes completed

London and the South East

Major schemes

Now completed
In construction
In development
At options stage
* including A27 East of Lewes
  • Over 60 lane miles added
  • New smart technology on M3, M20 and M23
  • Tackling ‘missing’ links on the south coast A27
  • Over 300 noise important areas mitigated
  • Over 3,500 new homes supported
  • Over 800 jobs generated
  • 15 cycle and walking schemes completed

Our human drive

In the first road period, we have made real progress in thinking and working more sustainably, extending our investment beyond the traditional focus of operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network. Our ambition is to enhance the environment surrounding it, and to improve the quality of life for the communities alongside it, leaving a more positive legacy for future generations.

Building a Sustainable Business

Sustainable development is defined in our Licence as ‘encouraging economic growth while protecting the environment and improving safety and quality of life for current and future generations’.

It touches every aspect of our business, from how we design our schemes and connect the country to how we develop our people and work with our supply chain.

Focus areas:

Our Sustainable development strategy:

In April 2017, we published our Sustainable development strategy and our Environment strategy. Both were supported by detailed action plans, which we have used to guide our delivery in these areas.

Setting industry-wide standards and raising awareness:

We have worked to integrate sustainable development principles into the design of our assets and infrastructure. This will help us deliver benefits for the environment, the economy and society as a whole. In July 2019, for example, we published a new standard in our Design manual for roads and bridges.

Aligning to the Five Capitals Model

Our Sustainable development strategy directly aligns with the Five Capitals Model of sustainability. Everything we do is focused on improving these areas, rather than depleting or degrading them.

Natural capitalThe natural resources and services we benefit from

Our focus area:Carbon management

The UK has a legally binding commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The infrastructure sector is responsible for almost one-sixth of total emissions; we have a role to play in contributing to the national reduction.

Financial capitalOur capacity to invest

Our focus area:Climate change adaptation

We need to adapt our network and make effective investment decisions. This will help us become more resilient to future changes in climate, which may result in more frequent and severe weather events. Climate adaptation today builds resilience for tomorrow.

Human capitalThe knowledge and capacity of our people and stakeholders

Our focus area:Sustainability leadership

We need to protect and improve the safety of customers and road workers using sustainable methods and practices, and invest in our people’s health, knowledge and capabilities.

Manufactured capitalThe infrastructure and technologies we manage

Our focus area:The circular economy

Investment in major infrastructure is increasingly putting pressure on the availability of the materials needed in construction, as well as increasing competition. Our challenge is to be increasingly efficient in our resource use, and ensure recycled materials are reused for the highest value purpose.

Social capitalThe relationships, networks and communities that we rely on

Our focus area:Responsible sourcing

We will play our part to support the UK construction industry to responsibly source its materials and enable production processes that support workers, communities and the environment.

Driving greener growth

We want our roads to work harmoniously with the communities that live alongside them, and the built, natural and historic environments that surround them. Since 2015, we have invested through designated funds to deliver activities beyond the traditional focus of road investment. We have also had a wider focus on reducing carbon emissions from our company and from the operation of our network.

Focus areas:

Investing through designated funds:

Over the first road period, we invested £6541 million through five funds to make unprecedented improvements in the roads sector. We have invested through our: Environment fund; Air quality fund; Cycling, safety and integration fund; Growth and housing fund; and Innovation fund.

Safeguarding the environment and reducing our carbon footprint:

In the challenge to reduce our carbon emissions, 2019–20 was a defining year. Through contributing to DfT’s Greening Government Commitment around carbon savings and investing in energy efficiency measures, we have exceeded our 2019–20 target. Our carbon emissions from signing, signalling and road lighting, for example, are 53% lower than the baseline ten years ago.

1 We were allocated £675 million for the first road period, but in 2019–20, we completed a change control with DfT to carry forward £21 million of air quality funding into the next road period.

Landscape design and tree planting

We have been working in partnership with organisations such as the National Trust, Natural England, Woodland Trust and the Tree Council to increase planting in and around our network. Through our Environment designated fund, we are helping the Woodland Trust plant 50 million trees through the Northern Forest project.

We have focused on improving local environments through our planting schemes, as well as addressing areas when our roads have had an impact. In 2019–20, we delivered seven schemes as part of our Green Ribs project, which followed on from our A30 scheme in the South West. We have created landscape corridors and connected wildlife habitats. Through these schemes, we have planted 13,000 new trees and created hedgerows and other field boundaries. We worked together with organisations, such as Cornwall County Council, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Historic England, Natural England and private landowners.

We have also supported better landscape design and greater engagement with the local community. We are, for example, working with professional bodies, including the Landscape Institute, to promote better design and landscape assessment for road and rail projects. As part of this work, we have held training sessions on the Design manual for roads and bridges, and joined the Landscape Institute’s Technical Committee’s Infrastructure Working Group.

Badger in tree

Across the business:

we have plantedover 500,000plants

and deliveredover 200 hectaresof species-rich grassland

Caring about communities

We want to deliver a positive legacy for generations to come. We have made significant progress towards providing accessible and inclusive services for our diverse customers and neighbouring communities. Yet we recognise that there is still more we must do to increase the standard of network accessibility and inclusivity. We are also committed to providing valuable opportunities for our people to give back, including through volunteering and fundraising activities.

Focus areas:

Providing accessible and inclusive services:

Every day, drivers with a disability make around 200,000 journeys on our network. National disability statistics suggest that there could be a further 600,000 journeys taking place with a disabled passenger. We have worked with disabled customers and our Roads for All Forum to deliver real improvements across our network and our services.

Supporting our people and local communities:

In 2019–20, our people gave 1,885 hours to local communities, working with over 50 organisations and helping over 3,500 people. We also work in partnership with charities, and we encourage and support all our people to fundraise and donate.

Taking on the A14 Great Ouse challenge

Around 1,700 runners and cyclists were among the first people to set foot on our brand new 12-mile A14 Huntingdon Southern bypass on Saturday 12 October. They helped raise thousands of pounds for local charities.

The budding athletes were taking part in the A14 Great Ouse Challenge, ahead of the new bypass opening to drivers later this year. The nearly finished road was a perfect setting for a series of races. They were organised and marshalled by our project team, who were keen to give something back to the local communities that had supported them through the project.

Events included wheelchair athletes, cyclists and runners completing their choice of 7km or 14km courses, as well as a 1.4km fun run for children. Together, they raised more than £17,000 for local charities, the East Anglian Air Ambulance and East Anglia children’s hospices.

Great Ouse challenge runners

Competitors raised thousands of pounds for local charities on the new road, before it was opened for traffic.

in people

We have grown our business from 3,700 full-time equivalents to over 6,000 through the first road period, while developing key capabilities to enable our delivery. We use our People strategy to guide our development, including managing the careers of our people, attracting new talent and building capability to support a sustainable business model. We have embedded our values and behaviours in our culture and processes, and we work to offer an inspiring, open and inclusive environment.

Focus areas:

Developing our organisation:

We are building diverse teams and an inclusive culture, developing our people, and establishing a sustainable pipeline of talent and capabilities. We want to help our people feel motivated, engaged and proud to work for us. We are now updating our People strategy to set out our vision to support the business and second road period.

Growing sustainably:

Over the first road period we have built capability in core areas and improved our workforce planning capability. In the last year, our people spent 11,021 days on learning and development, which represents an average of 1.9 days per person.

Performance and recognition:

Our total reward offering has helped create high-performing teams. Since April 2019, 18,405 recognitions have been posted on our online recognition platform and 2,920 financial awards made. Yet our reward offering is not just about pay and benefits. It also incorporates support for flexible working, a commitment to inclusion, and promotes the health, safety and wellbeing of all our people.

Equality, diversity and inclusion:

We want everyone across our organisation to feel valued, thrive and grow along the way with us, encouraged to work innovatively and trusted to succeed. In 2019–20, we made progress across several areas, including returners, armed forces, employee networks and diversity.

Reflections on our civil engineering graduate programme


Following university and completing my PhD, I wanted to pursue a career in a non-academic engineering environment, and therefore researched graduate scheme opportunities which could give me a taste of what the sector had to offer.

I joined Highways England on the Civil Engineering graduate programme, which supported my goal by providing the support and guidance I needed. In the early stages, I was seconded to ARUP, an independent firm of designers, engineers and architects, where I designed surface and foul water drainage systems, attenuation tanks and interceptors, working from concept to construction stage. I also learnt more about flood risk assessments, flood models, concepts and theories.

I then moved to work on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon enhancements scheme as a site engineer. I was able to put my technical flood and drainage experience into practice by managing the construction of drainage networks, completing risk assessments and method statements, raising permits and working with our supply chain partners.

Finally, I worked in the Commercial and Procurement directorate within the financial accounts team. This enabled me to gain experience of how costing models work, including by reviewing and verifying costs, and completing audits and reports, for both corporate and operations projects.

After completing the graduate scheme with the flexibility, professional development and reassurance offered by Highways England, I have successfully secured a permanent role as a Drainage Adviser within the Safety, Engineering and Standards directorate.

Graduate Engineer Sufian Sufian
Sufian Sufian

Sourcing sustainably

Over 90% of the investment in our network is delivered through our supply chain. Transforming the sector is likely to take time and can only be achieved by working collaboratively. We are working with our suppliers to source more sustainably in a way that supports new entrants to the market, builds capacity for growth, delivers more through innovation and generates cost reductions. We believe that it is critical not only to set the right environment and incentives, but also to role model the behaviours for sustainable long-term success.

Focus areas:

Developing a sustainable supply chain:

We are conducting more robust assessments and mapping our supply chain beyond Tier 1. We are working together, including through our Supplier Diversity Forum, to create a more inclusive and diverse industry. As our suppliers are at different stages of maturity in their sustainability evolution, we are working together to improve and evolve to meet our collective needs.

Developing socially responsible routes to market:

We have made steps to develop and implement sustainable commercial models, such as our Regional Delivery Partnerships and Smart Motorways Alliance model. We have also started the roll-out of Asset Delivery, our approach to maintaining and improving our assets. This has already improved the way that we deliver our services and how we contract with our supply chain.

Regional Delivery Partnerships and Smart Motorways Alliance model

In 2019, we started delivering our Regional Investment Programme programme of work through new Regional Delivery Partnerships. These:

  • challenge our supply chain to buy better and more locally
  • encourage innovation and best practice
  • place greater emphasis on social impact and local employment strategies
  • reward suppliers who up-skill from our communities to do business and buy within their regions

In 2020, we finished work on our first Smart Motorway Alliance contract partnership. This has brought us together with designers, construction partners and a new role of production partner. Together, we will deliver our Smart Motorway Programme, working to a common vision and goal under a single leadership board. Our Alliance model also supports our ambitious efficiency programme. It will help implement innovative and new working methods, including digital design, off-site and modular construction and automated production.

motorway bridge

In both commercial models, integrated project delivery teams will be encouraged to use rapid design techniques, increase off-site manufacture, reuse materials and drive efficient circular economy decision‑making. The models share similar features:

  • Visibility of work: They provide long-term visibility of the pipeline of work, allowing our supply chain to invest in people, plant and materials.
  • Performance-based work allocation: Once appointed, work is allocated based on performance, encouraging partners to focus on delivery rather than on competing for the next scheme.
  • Sustainable procurement: With the establishment of sustainable procurement hubs for all partners, there is a focus on coordinating activities to identify and deliver efficiencies.
  • Collective responsibility: Supply partners are collectively responsible and, to varying degrees, rewarded based upon delivering efficiencies to budget and performance.