Every year since 2016 the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which keeps its eye on rail operators and National Highways, has reported on the performance of the strategic road network across England’s various regions. It does this by comparing a series of key performance indicators (KPIs) set up to give a handle on safety, reliability and speed of journeys, conditions of roads and meeting user needs.
Which area comes out on top? Well, that depends on which KPI is considered. At Thermal Road Repairs, we naturally look at pavement – or road surfacing – condition rankings first, since restoring road surfaces is what we are all about. Our low-carbon thermal repair technology was initially developed to fix longitudinal cracks between motorway carriageways, before we moved on to include pothole, defect and trench reinstatement fixes too.
The KPI for pavement condition is ‘the percentage of pavement assets that do not need further investigation’, with the North West coming out on top with 97%, above the target of 95%. Only the Midlands and the East fall below that 95% goal, scoring 94% and 92% respectively.
The report suggests that the East’s placing at the bottom of the pavement condition league could be because it has a higher proportion of concrete pavements; 5% rather than the network average of 2%. It also has more than its fair share of A-roads; 83% of route length compared to 57% average over the network. Another factor could be that it has fewer parallel routes than other regions, making it difficult to divert traffic when making repairs.
The East region does excel on journey times, taking joint first place – tied with the North West – in terms of average delays to journeys: 6 seconds per vehicle per mile. Perhaps not surprisingly, the congested South East fares worst in this category with average delays of 7.9 seconds per vehicle per mile.
The South East is also at the bottom of the league for delays due to roadworks with an average annual delay of 1.3 minutes for every hour travelled. The Midlands and East come in at under half of that at 0.6 minutes per hour travelled.
One of the measures that shows the widest variation between regions is spending on renewals. In 200/21, investment in the East was highest at £57,000 per lane mile compared to the lowest spend of £42,000 per lane mile in the Midlands and an average of £47,000. However, the average spend on renewals for the East over the previous five years was the lowest at £24,000 per lane mile compared to the average of £38,000 per lane mile.
The disparity in maintenance spends is lower. The North West and South East spent the most in 2020/21, £17,000 per lane mile compared to the lowest spender, the South West, where £12,000 per lane mile was spent on maintenance in the same period. All the regions spent more on maintenance last year than the average spend over the previous five years.
ORR has introduced some new benchmarks this year. One of these aims to compare the accuracy and timeliness of roadworks information by recording the percentage of overnight road closures that are accurately notified by National Highways seven days in advance of works. On this KPI, every region is well below the 2024/25 target of 90% but the North West again comes out on top at 66.4% with the South East at the bottom on 42.4%.
Taken all together, does this information perhaps suggest that the North West has the best strategic road network? Since Thermal Road Repairs is based in that region, we must declare a bias, and leave that judgement to others. There are benchmarks on safety and on air, water and noise quality which should also be considered.
The next step for ORR is to try and benchmark National Highways’ networks against other road networks, in the UK and further afield in Europe. Now that could make for very interesting reading…
Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.
High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.