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The SRN comprises approximately 4,300 miles of motorways and major ‘trunk’ A-roads in England, and it is managed by Highways England (HE), a company wholly owned by the Secretary of State for Transport. The new governance framework for HE comprises legislation, a licence document, a Framework Agreement, a Road Investment Strategy and Articles of Association, supported by relevant guidance and standards. This was legislated for in the Infrastructure Act 2015.

HE and its predecessor the Highways Agency is or were responsible for maintaining the SRN and for major projects associated with it, such as Labour’s Targeted Programme of Improvements, the introduction of traffic officers and the growing phenomenon of ‘smart motorways’, which form a key part of the Roads Investment Strategy for 2015-21.

Since 1979 governments of all stripes have expanded the SRN; the pattern of investment and construction has broadly mirrored the fortunes of the economy. Trends in road building have come and gone: the prevailing ‘predict and provide’ orthodoxy of the 1980s gave way to a more considered approach in the mid-late 1990s, which has largely been with us ever since, of making the best use of the existing network and considering further development in light of environmental and health impacts.

After 2010 the Coalition Government moved from a cautious approach to road building, dictated to a great extent by fiscal constraints, to a more assertive approach that formed part of a wider National Infrastructure Plan of capital spending. The current Conservative Government seems likely to continue with this policy.

One of the persistent themes over the past thirty years has been the expectation of successive governments that there would be significant private investment in the SRN. This has emerged only to a limited extent. This is touched on in this note, but for full details see HC Library briefing paper SN442

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