Highways Agency unveils plan to protect roadside environment

The Highways Agency - the operator of England's network of motorways and trunk roads - has launched a new environment strategy to protect the environment alongside the country's motorways.

As part of the UK Government’s attempt to introduce an integrated transport policy, the Agency is no longer merely responsible for building and maintaining roads. It must now devise strategies for safety, integration of transport modes and alternative forms of transport.

The first of these plans is the Strategic Plan for the Environment: Towards a Balance with Nature.

The strategy covers a range of issues including air pollution, waste management, noise reduction, water pollution, biodiversity and the protection of England’s geological and historical heritage.

The Agency will direct more resources from its annual £1.4Bn budget to implement the new environmental techniques and ideas. The strategy will also draw on an additional £8M “ringfenced” fund created for the reduction of the impact of motorways and trunk roads on the environment.

In developing the strategy, the Highways Agency consulted with a committee of environmental groups, including English Nature, the National Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Friends of the Earth. English Nature’s Transport and Access Adviser, David Markham told edie that his organisation generally welcomes the new plan. “This indicates that they are committed to developing an overall environmental approach to the road network,” Markham said. “We also sought a commitment to progress work on heritage conservation and they’ve built that in. However, they didn’t agree to champion specific species. Overall, I think the new role for the Agency is positive, but it isn’t going to be easy for them as they are still tied into the implementation and maintenance of the road network.”

Future plans from the Highways Agency will cover safety, maintenance, operation of the motorway network, improvement of the network, integration with other transport modes, support for the economy, and accessibility for cycling, horse riding and pedestrians.

Highways Agency Chief Executive Peter Nutt said: “The Highways Agency is committed to delivering a better service for road users and those affected by roads whilst minimising the impact on the environment and, where possible, enhancing it.

Under its new environmental strategy the Agency will:

  • consult road contractors on implementation of the policy
  • develop contracts which balance value for money with environmental benefits
  • use environmentally-friendly materials
  • develop a biodiversity action plan to provide protection for wildlife, trees and watercourses on land next to motorways
  • introduce engineering measures to protect wildlife from road traffic where motorways cross habitats
  • use noise-reducing surfaces when roads need to be resurfaced
  • identify sites for noise mitigation on existing roads
  • research tyre and road noise with the tyre industry
  • conserve existing resources and co-operate with the construction industry on recycling materials and encourage the use of local materials
  • develop a research programme for water management in relation to roads and improve procedures for dealing with road spillages
  • increase use of environmentally-friendly lighting on motorways
  • work with specialist organisations to protect heritage sites from traffic and road damage.

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