If you’re driving on a motorway, or a major trunk A road, the road will probably be within the Strategic Road Network (SRN) managed by Highways England; if you’re driving on a quiet A or B road, it will likely be a road operated by a local authority.

SRN roads are well-funded by central government and managed according to common network-wide metrics, reflecting their importance to how people and goods move around the country. Local roads, by contrast, receive lower levels of funding and are subject to more variable operational standards depending on which local authority is responsible.

Some local roads, however, are more important than others. These will be local A roads which, whilst not as pivotal as SRN A roads, are nevertheless a step above typical local roads in their strategic significance at regional and national levels. The 2016 Rees Jeffreys Road Fund report ‘A Major Road Network for England’ identified circa 3,800 miles of such roads and labelled these collectively as the Major Road Network (MRN).

The WSP paper ‘A Vision for the Governance of the Major Road Network’ considers the concept further and takes a closer look at how the MRN might be managed in practice and what implications this could have for the wider governance of England’s road network.

It identifies the new and emerging subnational transport bodies as natural candidates for the task of managing the MRN and argues that these bodies should take responsibility for transport strategy at the regional level, coordinating an integrated approach with Highways England and local authorities and bringing coherence to the operations of the SRN, MRN, and local roads, with consequent economic and efficiency benefits.

It further explores what a ‘Fit for Purpose’ MRN might look like, taking inspiration from active discussions across the highway sector and Highways England’s current operational regime to examine how standards and governance regimes can simultaneously achieve network-wide rigour with a particularity and sensitivity to the variety of roads incorporated within the MRN.

Finally, this paper looks into the future of England’s roads, exploring how governance of England’s major roads should be configured so as to be ‘Future Ready’ and capable of adapting to the trends and challenges to be faced over the next 20 years, advocating a governance structure with roles and responsibilities sufficiently well-defined and well-located to ensure immediate effectiveness and yet flexible enough to adapt to radically changing circumstances over the medium and long term.

Mark MacGarty is a Consultant in Intelligent Transport Systems and Operations at WSP


More on this subject