National Highways

Last updated

National Highways Limited
FormerlyHighways England
(April 2015 – August 2021)
Highways Agency
(March 1994 – March 2015)
Type Government-owned company
Industry Highway Authority
Founded1 April 2015 (2015-04-01)
HeadquartersBridge House
1 Walnut Tree Close
GU1 4LZ [1]
Area served
(United Kingdom in road standards only)
Key people
Nick Harris
Dipesh J Shah OBE
Owner HM Government
Number of employees
4,700 (2018)
Website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

National Highways, formerly the Highways Agency and later Highways England, is a government-owned company charged with operating, maintaining and improving motorways and major A roads in England. [2] It also sets highways standards used by all four UK administrations, through the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges. Within England, it operates information services through the provision of on-road signage and its Traffic England website, provides traffic officers to deal with incidents on its network, and manages the delivery of improvement schemes to the network.


Founded as an executive agency, it was converted into a government-owned company, Highways England, on 1 April 2015. As part of this transition, the UK government set out its vision for the future of the English strategic road network in its Road Investment Strategy. A second Road Investment Strategy was published in March 2020, with the company set to invest £27 billion between 2020 and 2025 to improve the network as described in the strategy. [3] The current name was adopted on 19 August 2021.


Former logo of the Highways Agency Highways Agency.svg
Former logo of the Highways Agency

The Highways Agency was created as an executive agency of the Department for Transport on 30 March 1994. [4]

As part of the Department for Transport's 2010 Spending Review settlement, Alan Cook was appointed to lead an independent review of the government's approach to the strategic road network. [5] It recognised that the Highways Agency was closer to central government than other infrastructure operators, resulting in a lack of a strategic vision and certainty of funding due to the wider policy environment in which it operated, as well as the limited pressure to drive efficiencies compared to that faced by regulated sectors. [6] After an announcement on 27 June 2013 by Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, it became a government-owned company with the name Highways England on 1 April 2015. [7] In July 2015, Jim O'Sullivan became chief executive, replacing Graham Dalton. [8]

In 2020, the agency launched an advertising campaign using the song "Go West" by Village People and covered by Pet Shop Boys. The lyrics changed to "Go Left", encouraging people to stop on the left hand side of the motorway in case of breakdown. [9]

Former logo of the Highways England Highways England logo.svg
Former logo of the Highways England

On 19 August 2021, it was announced that Highways England would be rebranding to National Highways, a move coinciding with the permanent appointment of Nick Harris as CEO, after taking over as interim CEO from Jim O’Sullivan in February 2021. [10] It was suggested that the 'national' in the new name refers to the fact that the company is responsible for setting highways standards for the whole of the UK, [2] [11] through the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, even though decisions on the building and maintenance of roads outside of England are devolved to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive. [12] The renaming has met with some criticism, being the third name for the agency in six years, and with reports that 'Highways Agency' is colloquially used more than either newer name. [11] The name has also attracted criticism from the other countries of the UK, particularly in Wales where the use of 'national' has been criticised despite transport being devolved to Wales. [13]


The M4 motorway is partly managed by National Highways. M4 Motorway looking west - - 1313366.jpg
The M4 motorway is partly managed by National Highways.
A traffic officer carries out a road block on the M40 motorway in 2018 Rolling roadblock on M40 2018-07-15 03.jpg
A traffic officer carries out a road block on the M40 motorway in 2018

National Highways is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network (SRN) the motorways and major A roads in England. The SRN comprises over 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of road and includes various structures such as bridges, tunnels, drainage systems and technology assets including variable message signs and cabling. The SRN includes only around 2% of the total road length in England, but it carries around a third of all its motor vehicle traffic. [14]

National Highways is responsible for the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) providing the standards, advice notes and other documents relating to the design, assessment and operation of trunk roads, including motorways in the United Kingdom. [15] The manual is produced by National Highways in conjunction with the devolved governments of Wales, [16] Scotland [17] and Northern Ireland. [18] The manual is also used in some parts of the Commonwealth. [19] The authority also produces the Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works (MCHW), and Asset Maintenance and Operation Requirements (AMOR) which supersedes the Network Maintenance Manual and Routine and Winter Service Codes, and its predecessor the Trunk Road Maintenance Manual.

Operating the network

National Highways' operations are split into areas [20] which are loosely based on the regions of England. These regions are subdivided into nine operational areas as well as eleven areas and routes which are managed by DBFO (Design-Build-Finance-Operate) companies. [20] Each area is managed and maintained by an area team (the Managing Agent; MA) and a contractor (the Managing Agent Contractor; MAC). The M6 Toll is a PFI concession which is also part of the strategic road network.

Strategic Road Network

Strategic Road Network
Operational areaCounties covered (whole & partial)Roads managed
South West
(former areas 1 & 2)
Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire UK-Motorway-M4.svg , UK-Motorway-M5.svg , UK-Motorway-M32.svg , UK-Motorway-M48.svg , UK-Motorway-M49.svg , UK road A4.svg , UK road A30.svg , UK road A36.svg , UK road A38.svg , UK road A40.svg , UK road A46.svg , UK road A303.svg
Area 3 [21] Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Wiltshire UK-Motorway-M3.svg , UK-Motorway-M4.svg , UK-Motorway-M27.svg , UK-Motorway-M271.svg , UK-Motorway-A3(M).svg , UK-Motorway-A308(M).svg , UK-Motorway-A404(M).svg , UK road A3.svg , UK road A27.svg , UK road A31.svg , UK road A34.svg , UK road A303.svg , UK road A404.svg
Area 4 [22] East Sussex, Kent, Surrey, West Sussex UK-Motorway-M2.svg , UK-Motorway-M20.svg , UK-Motorway-M23.svg , UK road A2.svg , UK road A20.svg , UK road A21.svg , UK road A23.svg , UK road A26.svg , UK road A27.svg , UK road A259.svg , UK road A2070.svg
(former areas 6 & 8)
Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk UK-Motorway-M1.svg , UK-Motorway-M11.svg , UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg , UK road A1.svg , UK road A5.svg , UK road A11.svg , UK road A12.svg , UK road A14.svg , UK road A47.svg , UK road A120.svg , UK road A141.svg , UK road A414.svg , UK road A421.svg , UK road A428.svg , UK road A1307.svg
Area 7 [23] Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland UK-Motorway-M1.svg , UK-Motorway-M6.svg , UK-Motorway-M45.svg , UK-Motorway-M69.svg , UK road A1.svg , UK road A5.svg , UK road A6.svg , UK road A14.svg , UK road A38.svg , UK road A42.svg , UK road A43.svg , UK road A45.svg , UK road A46.svg , UK road A50.svg , UK road A52.svg , UK road A453.svg , UK road A516.svg , UK road A5111.svg
Area 9 [24] Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Worcestershire UK-Motorway-M5.svg , UK-Motorway-M6.svg , UK-Motorway-M40.svg , UK-Motorway-M42.svg , UK-Motorway-M50.svg , UK-Motorway-M54.svg , UK-Motorway-M69.svg , UK road A5.svg , UK road A38.svg , UK road A40.svg , UK road A45.svg , UK road A46.svg , UK road A49.svg , UK road A50.svg , UK road A446.svg , UK road A449.svg , UK road A458.svg , UK road A483.svg , UK road A500.svg , UK road A4510.svg , UK road A5148.svg
North West
(former areas 10 & 13)
Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside UK-Motorway-M6.svg , UK-Motorway-M53.svg , UK-Motorway-M55.svg , UK-Motorway-M56.svg , UK-Motorway-M57.svg , UK-Motorway-M58.svg , UK-Motorway-M60.svg , UK-Motorway-M61.svg , UK-Motorway-M62.svg , UK-Motorway-M65.svg , UK-Motorway-M66.svg , UK-Motorway-M67.svg , UK-Motorway-M602.svg , UK-Motorway-A74(M).svg , UK-Motorway-A627(M).svg , UK road A41.svg , UK road A55.svg , UK road A56.svg , UK road A66.svg , UK road A483.svg , UK road A494.svg , UK road A550.svg , UK road A556.svg , UK road A585.svg , UK road A590.svg , UK road A595.svg , UK road A663.svg , UK road A5036.svg , UK road A5103.svg
Area 12 [25] Derbyshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire UK-Motorway-M1.svg , UK-Motorway-M18.svg , UK-Motorway-M62.svg , UK-Motorway-M180.svg , UK-Motorway-M181.svg , UK-Motorway-M606.svg , UK-Motorway-M621.svg , UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg , UK road A1.svg , UK road A57.svg , UK road A61.svg , UK road A63.svg , UK road A64.svg , UK road A160.svg , UK road A162.svg , UK road A180.svg , UK road A616.svg , UK road A628.svg , UK road A1033.svg
Area 14 [26] County Durham, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg , UK-Motorway-A66 (M).svg , UK-Motorway-A194(M).svg , UK road A1.svg , UK road A19.svg , UK road A66.svg , UK road A184.svg , UK road A696.svg
Design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) roads
DBFO area DBFO nameRoads managed DBFO CompanyCommencement date
5 M25, link roads to GLA Boundary, Berks, Bucks, Herts, Essex, Kent & Surrey UK-Motorway-M1.svg , UK-Motorway-M3.svg , UK-Motorway-M4.svg , UK-Motorway-M11.svg , UK-Motorway-M20.svg , UK-Motorway-M25.svg , UK-Motorway-M26.svg , UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg , UK road A1.svg , UK road A2.svg , UK road A3.svg , UK road A13.svg , UK road A20.svg , UK road A23.svg , UK road A30.svg , UK road A40.svg , UK road A282.svg , UK road A316.svg , UK road A405.svg , UK road A1089.svg , UK road A3113.svg Connect Plus (M25)October 2009
25 A69 Newcastle to Carlisle UK road A69.svg Road Link (A69)April 1996
26 A19 Dishforth to Tyne Tunnel UK road A19.svg , UK road A168.svg , UK road A174.svg , UK road A1053.svg Autolink Concessionaires (A19)February 1997
27 M1-A1 Link (Lofthouse to Bramham) UK-Motorway-M1.svg , UK-Motorway-M62.svg , UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg Connect M1-A1April 1996
28 A50 / A564 Stoke to Derby UK road A6.svg , UK road A50.svg Connect A50July 1996
29 A1(M) Alconbury to Peterborough UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg Road Management Services (Peterborough)April 1996
30 M40 (J1-15) Denham to Warwick UK-Motorway-M40.svg UK Highways M40 January 1996
31 A417 / A419 Swindon to Gloucester UK road A417.svg , UK road A419.svg Road Management Services (Gloucester)April 1996
32 A30 / A35 Exeter to Bere Regis UK road A30.svg , UK road A35.svg Connect A30/A35October 1996
33 A1 Darrington to Dishforth UK-Motorway-A1(M).svg Road Management Services (Darrington)March 2003
34 A249 Stockbury (M2) to Sheerness UK road A249.svg Sheppey RouteFebruary 2004
Toll roads
Toll concessionConcessionaireOpening date
UK-Motorway-M6 Toll.svg M6 Toll Midland ExpresswayDecember 2003

Improving the network

In common with the regulated sectors, National Highways works to fixed funding periods called Road Periods. Each Road Period is currently five years in length, and a particular Road Investment Strategy (RIS) will broadly align with this. Before a new Road Period starts, National Highways will provide the Secretary of State for Transport with an SRN Initial Report, including an assessment of the state of the SRN, maintenance and enhancement priorities, and future development needs. Following this, the government produces a draft RIS setting out the high-level outputs that National Highways will need to deliver within the corresponding Road Period, alongside the proposed funding. National Highways will then respond with a Strategic Business Plan detailing its plans for delivering the RIS. This is reviewed by the Highways Monitor to assess whether the proposed requirements are deliverable with the proposed financial resources and sufficiently challenging. After the Strategic Business Plan and RIS are finalised, National Highways must deliver the agreed outputs and will be monitored on its progress by the Highways Monitor. [27]

Development of the SRN is achieved through National Highways' capital investment programme, currently funded entirely by government through grant-in-aid and set out in the first Road Investment Strategy. For Road Period 1 (2015–20), Highways England invested around £15 billion in its network, with additional funding to address other local challenges in proximity[ clarification needed ] of the SRN relating to the environment; air quality; cycling, safety and integration; and growth and housing. [28]

For Road Period 2 (2020-25), National Highways will invest over £27 billion in its network, of which £14 billion is for road enhancements. The rest is for operating, maintaining and renewing its roads, and further funding to address challenges on the environment and wellbeing; users and communities; innovation and modernisation; and safety and congestion. [29] As of this Road Period, National Highways' activities will, at least in part, be funded by vehicle excise duty. [30]


Head office

The company head office is in Bridge House, on a one-way gyratory in Guildford, Surrey. Previously its head office was in Dorking, Surrey. In 2014, the agency signed a ten-year lease with the owner of the Guildford facility. [31]

National Traffic Information Service (NTIS)

Sopra Steria operates the National Traffic Information Service (NTIS) on behalf of National Highways. NTIS is the information hub of England's strategic road network. [32]

The service is based at Quinton, Birmingham and is responsible for providing accurate, historical, real-time and predictive traffic and incident information to businesses, the travelling public and National Highways' operations. [32] It collects real-time traffic information from over 10,000 fixed sites on the motorway and all-purpose trunk road network from MIDAS and Traffic Monitoring Unit (TMU) electronic loops in the road surface and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras at the roadside. Additionally it uses anonymous floating vehicle traffic data (FVD) from vehicles to supplement the fixed traffic monitoring sites.[ citation needed ] NTIS also has access to nearly 2,000 CCTV cameras, [33] 300 weather stations, 4,600 roadside electronic signs, 16,000 roadside electronic matrix signals and incident data from over 250 operational partners including the police and local authorities. [34]

It processes this data to create useful intelligence for operational decision making and dissemination of current and predictive information to the public using the 4,600 roadside variable-message signs, [35] the Highways England website [36] (including a mobile version), social media channels such as Twitter and the telephone-based Highways England customer contact centre [37] as well as distributing information to the media and businesses through a number of data feeds. [33] [38] These feeds are widely used by organisations such as the BBC and local newspaper websites for their own traffic information. Services such as Google Maps and sat-nav operators also use National Highways' data for their traffic information.

Area teams

The motorway network is divided into "Areas". They are contracts that are awarded by the Department for Transport. The area teams work alongside the National Highways Traffic Officer Service – providing incident support, emergency traffic management and infrastructure maintenance. They are responsible for the management and operation of the roads in their area. [39] In 2009, fleet tracking has been deployed to assist area teams to manage their specialist winter maintenance vehicles during the cold snap. [40]


National Highways employs uniformed traffic officers; on-road and control room, as well as specialist staff for work in engineering, surveying, accountancy, and administration. There is a graduate entry scheme, with general entry and specialist engineering entry options. [41] For the Traffic Officer Service each team is supervised by a team manager, one of between six and eight such managers generally working together, to ensure 24-hour management cover.

Governance and accountability

Formal governance structure

National Highways is a private company limited by shares, wholly owned by the Secretary of State for Transport. [42] The National Highways Board is the primary governance arm of the company and is accountable to the Secretary of State for Transport. The Board delegate responsibility of the day-to-day running of the company to the Chief Executive who, as the Accounting Officer, is accountable to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport, as the Principal Accounting Officer, for the stewardship of public funds. The Principal Accounting Officer and Secretary of State for Transport are both ultimately accountable to Parliament for the activities and performance of National Highways. [43]

Performance monitoring

The Infrastructure Act 2015 established the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) as the monitor for National Highways. ORR is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the performance and efficiency of National Highways, and advising the Secretary of State for Transport on its compliance against the Road Investment Strategy and Licence. The Act also established Transport Focus (previously Passenger Focus) as its watchdog with the purpose of promoting and protecting the interests of users of the strategic road network. [42]

Traffic England

Traffic England is a website [44] that gives information about the latest traffic conditions as well as details of any roadworks or events that may cause congestion. [45] By selecting current motorway information users can see the average speed between individual motorway junctions, what is being displayed on all the variable-message signs, and images from traffic cameras. [45] The website is run by National Highways' National Traffic Information Service.

Survive Group

The Survive Group is a partnership between National Highways, the National Police Chiefs' Council, the breakdown/recovery industry and other road service providers. The Survive Group has been established to improve the safety of those who work on the road network and the travelling public and is also dedicated to the promotion of driving safety. The name Survive comes from Safe Use of Roadside Verges in Vehicular Emergencies.

The Survive Group website holds information on the Survive Group membership details and activities being undertaken by the working groups. It also supplies advice on how to drive safely in a wide range of driving conditions, advice on planning journeys. Survive also provides publications and new guidance produced by the Survive members plus news on new initiatives and forthcoming road safety events. [46]

Historical Railways Estate

In 2013, Highways England took over responsibility for the Historical Railways Estate (HRE) from BRB (Residuary) Limited. [47]

Bridge infilling

Great Musgrave Bridge

Surviving bridge over railway cutting just north of the station in 2016 Musgrave railway station bridge 09.08.2016R.jpg
Surviving bridge over railway cutting just north of the station in 2016

In May and June 2021, the space under the road bridge at Great Musgrave in Cumbria was filled with 1,600 tonnes of aggregate and concrete by Highways England, ostensibly for what HRE managers considered safety reasons. The bridge spanned a 5-mile (8.0 km) section of trackbed which local rail enthusiasts hoped to restore, linking the Eden Valley and Stainmore railways to create an 11-mile (18 km) tourist line between Appleby and Kirkby Stephen. [48] [49] Accused of 'vandalism', Highways England were forced to apply for retrospective planning permission, [50] with Eden District council receiving 913 objections and only two expressions of support, [51] [52] and government intervention to pause National Highways plans to infill dozens of other Victorian bridges across England. [52] Advised by planning officers to reject the application, [51] the council's planning committee unanimously refused retrospective planning permission on 16 June 2022. [53] Restoration of the Musgrave bridge to its former condition would cost an £431,000, in addition to the £124,000 spent on the initial infilling work. [52]

After the Great Musgrave outcry, National Highways developed a new way to assess the abandoned rail bridges and tunnels it controls, with decisions reviewed in collaboration with experts from heritage, environmental and active travel sectors. The stakeholder advisory forum includes the Department for Transport, Sustrans, Railway Paths Ltd, Railway Heritage Trust, the HRE Group, Heritage Railway Association, Natural England, Historic England (also representing Cadw), Historic Scotland and ADEPT. [51]

Congham Bridge

At Congham in Norfolk, a railway bridge designed by the pioneering M&GNJR engineer William Marriott was infilled by National Highways in 2021. The railway route had been identified as part of a proposed footpath and cycleway between King's Lynn and Fakenham, and in January 2023 King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council demanded that National Highways submit a retrospective planning application. [54]

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    The South Wales Trunk Road Agent is one of the two trunk road agents in Wales. It is responsible for managing motorways and trunk roads in South Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government. Established on 1 April 2006 as the South Wales Trunk Road Agency, and renamed to its current name on 1 April 2012. The agent manages the motorways and trunk roads in the fourteen principal areas of the south of Wales, from the Severn Bridge in the east to Milford Haven in the west. The remainder of Wales is managed by the North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Major Road Network</span>

    The Major Road Network (MRN) is a classification of local authority roads in England. It incorporates the National Highways-controlled Strategic Road Network (SRN) and the more major local authority controlled A roads. This network accounts for around 4 per cent of the nation's road length but 43 per cent of the traffic flows. It is designed to allow central government funding to be more effectively targeted towards the more economically critical road infrastructure. The system was proposed by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund in October 2017 and adopted by the government in its 2017 Transport Investment Strategy. The MRN scheme was implemented in late 2018 and local authorities were required to submit proposals for £3.5 billion of funding for new schemes to be constructed 2020-25.


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