National Highways Limited
FormerlyHighways England
(April 2015 – August 2021)
Highways Agency
(March 1994 – March 2015)
TypeGovernment-owned company
IndustryHighway 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
OwnerHM Government
Number of employees
4,700 (2018) Edit this at Wikidata

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

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 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.
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 area Counties covered (whole & partial) Roads managed
South West
(former areas 1 & 2)
Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire , , , , , , , , , , ,
Area 3[21] Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Wiltshire , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Area 4[22] East Sussex, Kent, Surrey, West Sussex , , , , , , , , , ,
(former areas 6 & 8)
Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Area 7[23] Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Area 9[24] Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Worcestershire , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
North West
(former areas 10 & 13)
Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Area 12[25] Derbyshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Area 14[26] County Durham, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear , , , , , , ,
Design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) roads
DBFO area DBFO name Roads managed DBFO Company Commencement date
5 M25, link roads to GLA Boundary, Berks, Bucks, Herts, Essex, Kent & Surrey , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Connect Plus (M25) October 2009
25 A69 Newcastle to Carlisle Road Link (A69) April 1996
26 A19 Dishforth to Tyne Tunnel , , , Autolink Concessionaires (A19) February 1997
27 M1-A1 Link (Lofthouse to Bramham) , , Connect M1-A1 April 1996
28 A50 / A564 Stoke to Derby , Connect A50 July 1996
29 A1(M) Alconbury to Peterborough Road Management Services (Peterborough) April 1996
30 M40 (J1-15) Denham to Warwick UK Highways M40 January 1996
31 A417 / A419 Swindon to Gloucester , Road Management Services (Gloucester) April 1996
32 A30 / A35 Exeter to Bere Regis , Connect A30/A35 October 1996
33 A1 Darrington to Dishforth Road Management Services (Darrington) March 2003
34 A249 Stockbury (M2) to Sheerness Sheppey Route February 2004
Toll roads
Toll concession Concessionaire Opening date
M6 Toll Midland Expressway December 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

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] In July 2023, National Highways' plans to restore the bridge and remove the infill were criticised by locals as they involved closing the bridge for three months, necessitating long local diversions for regular users of the B6259 which crosses the bridge.[54] Work began in August 2023 to remove the infill material.[55]

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.[56]

See also



  1. ^ "About us". Highways England. 9 October 2019. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Nick Harris appointed Chief Executive at new-look 'National Highways'". GOV.UK. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  3. ^ "Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2): 2020 to 2025". Department for Transport. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  4. ^ John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport (30 March 1994). "Trunk Roads (Review)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. col. 929. My target was to complete the review in time for it to provide the basis for the new Highways Agency, which is being launched today.
  5. ^ "A Fresh Start for the Strategic Road Network: The Government Response" (PDF). Department for Transport. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  6. ^ "A fresh start for the strategic road network" (PDF). Alan Cook. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 1 July 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. ^ Alexander, Danny (27 June 2013). "Investing in Britain's future".
  8. ^ "Appointment of Highways Agency Chief Executive" (Press release). Government News Network. 12 June 2008. Archived from the original on 19 December 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  9. ^ "Breakdown on a motorway? Go left". National Highways. 19 March 2021. Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  10. ^ Prior, Grant (20 August 2021). "Highways England gets new name and CEO". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  11. ^ a b "Highways England to be rebranded as National Highways while still only managing England roadways". Sky News. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  12. ^ "Highways England rebrands as National Highways". The Construction Index. 19 August 2021. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  13. ^ "£7 million rebranding of Highways England to National Highways slammed as 'bizarre move'". Nation.Cymru. 21 August 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  14. ^ "Use of the Strategic Road Network" (PDF). Department for Transport. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  15. ^ Annual Report and Accounts 2021 (PDF). Highways England. 2021. p. 129.
  16. ^ "Highway standards". GOV.WALES. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  17. ^ "Design of trunk roads". Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  18. ^ "Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Design Standards RSPPG E003 | Department for Infrastructure". Infrastructure. 1 July 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  19. ^ "Highways England to be rebranded as National Highways while still only managing England roadways". Sky News. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  20. ^ a b "Highways England Network management map" (PDF). Highways England. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Area 3 – South West England". Highways England.
  22. ^ "Area 4 Kent/Sussex/M2 etc". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  23. ^ "Area 7 Derbyshire/Leicestershire/Notts". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  24. ^ "Area 9 Staffordshire / Warwickshire/ West Midlands". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  25. ^ "Area 12 Lincolnshire/Yorkshire". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  26. ^ "Area 14 Durham/North Yorkshire/Tyne and Wear". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  27. ^ "Strategic Highways Company: Licence". Department for Transport. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  28. ^ "Road investment strategy: 2015 to 2020 - GOV.UK". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  29. ^ "Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2): 2020 to 2025". Department for Transport. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  30. ^ "Road Investment Strategy post 2020: planning ahead" (PDF). Department for Transport. 16 March 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  31. ^ "Highways Agency to relocate from Dorking to Guildford". BBC. 30 July 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  32. ^ a b "National Traffic Information Service". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012.
  33. ^ a b "National Traffic Information Service Overview". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  34. ^ "Collection of Traffic Information". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012.
  35. ^ "Festive test for transport network". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  36. ^ "Highways England". Archived from the original on 11 January 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  37. ^ "Better Information" (PDF). Highways Agency. May 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  38. ^ "Services to be Delivered". The Highways Agency's Traffic Control Centre Project. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  39. ^ "How We Manage Our Roads". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012.
  40. ^ "Vehicle tracking assists road safety during cold snap". Cybit Ltd. 2010. Archived from the original on 18 December 2010.
  41. ^ "Career information and graduate scheme". Highways Agency. Archived from the original on 21 August 2012.
  42. ^ a b "Infrastructure Act 2015". Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  43. ^ "Highways England Annual Report and Accounts 2016-2017" (PDF). Highways England. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  44. ^ "Traffic England". Highways Agency. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  45. ^ a b "Traffic England: Real-time traffic information". Highways Agency. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  46. ^ "Hard Shoulder Safety and Road Safety". Survive Group. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  47. ^ "BRB (Residuary) Ltd has been abolished". 30 September 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  48. ^ "Highways England accused of rail heritage vandalism". The Construction Index. 30 June 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  49. ^ "Highways England accused of 'vandalism' after bridge infilled with concrete". ITV. 1 July 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  50. ^ Peskett, Ted (24 July 2021). "Eden District Council say Highways England must apply to retain Great Musgrave Bridge infilling". News & Star / Cumberland News. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  51. ^ a b c Horgan, Rob (10 June 2022). "National Highways' bridge infilling application dealt blow by planning officials". New Civil Engineer. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  52. ^ a b c Weaver, Matthew (9 May 2022). "Cumbrian council may reverse concrete infilling of Victorian bridge". Guardian. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  53. ^ "Great Musgrave bridge: Concrete infill refused must be removed". BBC News. 16 June 2022. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  54. ^ "National Highways slammed again over Great Musgrave bridge fiasco". The Construction Index. 4 July 2023. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  55. ^ Weaver, Matthew (14 August 2023). "Roads agency starts to undo its 'vandalism' of Victorian bridge". Guardian. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  56. ^ "Third council stands up to National Highways' bridge infilling". The Construction Index. 26 January 2023. Retrieved 26 January 2023.

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