It's just over two years since Highways England came into being and we are making good progress, delivering what we committed to in our delivery plan and making our contribution towards growing the country's economy.
We continue to focus on our established imperatives; safety, customer service and delivery.
In terms of safety, I'm pleased to say that most of our contractors working for us are now achieving a better safety record compared to the average across other sectors and our customer service is improving, with better messaging on our overhead electronic signs, which provides people with more accurate real time journey information while en route to their destination. We're also working to introduce increased speeds limits through some sections of roadworks, helping drivers, businesses and families even further with their journeys.
We've been able to make some meaningful contributions from our designated funds - the ring fenced pots of money aimed at growth and housing, safety and integration, and environmental work. For example – the recently opened A556 has a "green" bridge linking two eco systems either side of the new and improved road.
And through our Growth and Housing fund we have made contributions of more than £40 million to 13 improvements, unlocking almost 22,000 new homes and more than 34,000 jobs.
It's an exciting time at Highways England, and there is more opportunity with us than ever before, especially with our three 'flagship' schemes. These, like our whole portfolio, will improve journeys, increase road capacity, make them more reliable and give customers a good user experience.
• The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade (£1.2 billion) which will vastly improve connectivity between the east coast ports, the Midlands and northwest is in construction.
• The A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down improvement will remove the visual and noise impact from the world heritage site of Stonehenge as well as delivering a high quality, high performing route between the South West, London and the South East.
• The new Lower Thames Crossing (estimated £4.4 billion) which will see a new tunnel east of Gravesend and Tilbury will be a brand new structure that will create an essential link across London and unlock more than £8 billion of economic benefits and create some 6,000 jobs.
People are now recognising that Highways England is delivering, and instead asking about investment in the strategic road network over the next roads period, 2020- 2025, and for me that's now the biggest game in town.
For a start, we have already gathered wide-ranging evidence on the state of our network; this is via our work on our route strategies. By dividing the country into these 18 key routes we can identify where work is required and start to determine what solutions could resolve the challenges. We're working closely with local stakeholders on these
Our Strategic Economic Growth Plan, The Road to Growth, will also help us to identify more locations across the country where we can support businesses, unlock development and growth – published in March 2017, this plan was also based on detailed consultation with key stakeholders and an extensive Programme of independent economic research.
The findings contained in The Road to Growth, as well as other evidence, will feed into our Strategic Road Network Initial Report which is due to be produced this financial year. The initial report will then be the subject of public consultation, from which the feedback will assist us and the government in developing the next RIS.
Once all feedback has been considered we will develop a strategic business plan setting out how, as a business, we intend to deliver our commitments between 2020 and 2025. The final documents are due to be published in 2019, ready for our delivery to start in April 2020.
Finally we will set out a Delivery Plan with a detailed programme of investment to be carried out in 2020 to 2025 on the basis of the commitments in RIS2.
Ultimately growing our own talent and becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation will play a vital part in ensuring Highways England meets its new challenges. We can only be successful when we make the very best use of all the talent that is available to us and ensure that we make our jobs attractive to everyone.
We are committed to creating a work environment that ensures we can recruit the best talent that is available to build a more sustainable and innovative industry – by 2020 we want to work with our suppliers to embed this approach across the sector ensuring we all make progress in attracting people from a wider pool .
What happens between now and 2020 and beyond is the next big step and it is important that as the demands on our network continue to evolve, we ensure we're in the best possible position to deliver the best solutions for our roads.