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Making the most of what we’ve got

In May National Highways published its suggested strategy for the UK’s motorway and A-road network from 2025 to 2030. There’s a distinct change in tone from previous strategies. The authority is firmly focussed on making the most of what it’s got, with an emphasis on improvement schemes, preventative maintenance and renewal.

Planned projects, like the Lower Thames Crossing, will go ahead, the document says. But don’t expect announcements about any more mega-projects. Smaller schemes, between £2m and £25m, which tackle congestion or safety problems, are more likely.

The reason for National Highway’s brake on road building is simply this: you can’t cut huge amounts of carbon if you keep constructing new highways and structures.

The UK is supposed to be achieving a 78% reduction in carbon emissions, compared to 1990, by 2035 and then to reach carbon net zero by 2050, goals which National Highways calls “the world’s most ambitious targets”. As for National Highways, it will be expecting its supply chains to cut between 40% and 50% of carbon from maintenance and construction activities between 2025 and 2030. That’s no mean feat.

National Highways mentions several times in the document that its approach to projects is now governed by PAS 2080 Carbon Management in Infrastructure. In simple terms, this means asking: do we really need to build and, if we do, can we do it in a way that emits less carbon?

Making the most of our built assets so that they have as long a life as possible makes perfect sense for any economy that aspires to achieve circularity. Pavement preservation techniques such as chip sealing, applied before a road surface has deteriorated too much, will significantly increase the life of many roads. Fixing potholes permanently – for instance using Thermal Road Repairs technology which creates a seamless repair while using renewable energy – is another way to extend a road’s lifetime, and reduce its whole-life carbon footprint.

There is also talk in the document about National Highways reaching outside its network to smooth and improve transitions with roads owned by others so that road users’ whole journeys can be better. This means trying to align National Highways’ investment plans with those of local authorities or transport providers, perhaps working together to improve intersections or hubs where different forms of transport come together.

Technology too must play a strong part in future plans if we are to cope with growing traffic volumes but no new roads. The Department for Transport’s projections are that traffic growth could be anything between 8% and 54% between now and 2060, depending on behaviour and vehicle technology changes.

In the short term, the DfT has eight weeks to consult on the strategy from 17 May 2023 when it was published. Following on from that it will form its Road Investment Strategy for 2025 to 2030.


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. It invests significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve existing ones.

Thermal Road Repairs: Decarbonising the asphalt repair industry.

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