Consultation outcome

Key Route Network: consultation on powers and responsibilities for locally important roads

Updated 15 November 2022

What we consulted on

From July to September 2021, the government consulted on proposals to give mayors and their mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) more decision-making powers over, and accountability for, the management of their Key Route Networks (KRNs). This met the government’s commitment in the cycling and walking plan for England (“Gear Change”) to consult on increasing the powers of mayors over their KRNs, similar to the powers that already apply in London.

We particularly sought the views of combined authorities, local authorities, and bodies that represent the interests of local government. This document summarises the responses received and the government’s next steps in light of these responses.

The proposed reforms to the KRN aim to give mayors greater powers to deliver on commitments such as those in their local transport plans, to ensure they can be held fully accountable for delivery and decisions taken, similarly to the Mayor of London in respect of Greater London Authority (GLA) roads.

Central to this is a well-functioning road network that enables mayors to deliver transformative schemes with a combined authority area-wide impact. However, we also want places to be able to resolve any issues in relation to delivery of new schemes or improvements to the road network in as efficient and collaborative a way as possible.

The consultation sought views on whether to:

  • provide mayors with additional highway management powers by transferring highway authority powers from local authorities to mayors
  • give mayors sole or concurrent highway powers over the KRN
  • give mayoral combined authorities the ability to delegate highway powers to local authorities
  • provide mayors with the power to direct a local authority to deliver schemes on the KRN
  • give mayors or local authorities the ability to request responsibility for a route by order of the Secretary of State for Transport

Breakdown of responses received

The consultation attracted 56 responses in total, broken down as follows:

Organisation Number of responses
Mayoral combined authorities 11
Local authorities  16
Campaign groups  2
Individual members of the public 17
Industry or professional associations or bodies 6
Bus and coach companies  2
Haulier companies 2

Responses generally supported reform of the KRN landscape. The majority of support came from members of the public and organisations with an interest in transport, while MCAs and local authorities were less supportive of the proposals.

Additional highway management powers for mayors

This section covers questions 1 to 4 of the consultation.

Q1: Should, in your view, mayors hold highway authority powers for managing KRNs? Please explain why.

84% of respondents answered this question. Of those that responded:

  • 55.3% said that they should
  • 40.4% said that they should not
  • 4.3% did not express a clear preference either way

Q2: Which, if any, functions or powers do you think should be transferred to mayors, including those listed in Table 1? Please include any powers you think are missing (see Table 1 below).

Q3: With reference to the functions listed in Table 1, to what extent do you think transferring these functions will allow for effective management of the KRN? Please explain why.

Q4: Please explain what impact these changes could have for congestion, air quality, bus priority and cycling/walking infrastructure on the KRN.

Q1: Should, in your view, mayors hold highway authority powers for managing KRNs?

Organisation Agree Neither Disagree Not completed
Individuals 13 0 3 1
Non-government organisations 7 0 1 4
MCAs 3 1 4 3
Local authority 3 1 11 1

On balance, most MCAs and their constituent authorities did not support the transfer of highway powers from local authorities to MCAs, believing it would be contrary to the principles of devolution. They were concerned that such a shift could undermine and weaken joint working relationships and arrangements, and introduce a 2 or 3-tier highway authority hierarchy which could create a disjointed and more bureaucratic system with confusion over responsibilities.

MCAs and local authorities highlighted the importance of maintaining a joint approach on how any aspect of the KRN is managed. One MCA pointed out how successful collaboration, joint working and contractual arrangements between it and the local authorities had benefitted the operation, maintenance and network management of the KRN.

Another MCA felt that close collaboration had already facilitated effective management of the KRN by sharing highway condition data, successful bidding for funding of infrastructure improvements and cohesion between the MCA and local authorities in managing roads.

One local authority also pointed out that “enhancing existing partnership and collaborative approaches between MCAs and local authorities would be a more effective approach as it is likely that MCAs will need to secure support from local authorities to deliver schemes on the ground.”

In terms of how powers should be distributed, respondents treated the powers listed in Table 1 of the consultation document as a whole.

Most local authorities felt that individual combined authority areas were best placed to decide on the powers that are right for their area and that the suggested split of powers in Table 1 should not be imposed, rather it should be a choice for MCAs whether they wish to take them on.

One MCA pointed out that transfer of powers would not necessarily mean that those powers would be used to achieve the aims set out in the consultation and that “the critical aim is to achieve a consistency of approach across borough boundaries and align resources to agreed priorities.”

One mayor expressed support for the potential split of powers proposed in Table 1 on the condition that they held accountability and financial responsibility for, but not operational control over, the KRN. They felt that moving more highway authority powers for the KRN to the mayor could better support road space reallocation or junction/signal prioritisation to buses, cycling and walking.

Some MCAs and local authorities also pointed out that the differences in their demographic should be taken into account when deciding the appropriate split of powers, and that it should not be assumed that all mayoral areas are the same as London.

The majority of members of the public responding felt that the transfer of highway powers from local authorities to MCAs would support delivery of local and national transport strategies and priorities in a more timely, holistic, and consistent manner. The greatest support came from individuals based in the North West, and in particular Greater Manchester who believed that the transfer of highway powers could increase options for active travel in the combined authority area by supporting the delivery of strategies such as the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s “Made to Move” strategy and the government’s cycling and walking plan for England.

Both individuals and organisations felt that giving mayors powers over their KRN would better enable mayors to reduce congestion and improve air quality by implementing strategies to increase bus journeys. However, some respondents raised concerns that introducing an additional highway authority for the KRN would increase costs for local government through duplication of functions and introduce new barriers in highway management.

A minority of non-local government organisations were of the view that transferring functions from one authority to another was unlikely to improve congestion or air quality in any significant way.

Overall, the most common concerns raised in relation to giving mayors a range of additional highways powers and associated functions and duties were:

  • maintaining collaboration between MCAs and local authorities and not creating barriers to delivery of road improvements on the boundaries between the KRN and Local Road Network
  • avoiding duplication of administrative functions and costs
  • ensuring that road freight and access to loading bays are considered in transport planning

Giving mayors sole or concurrent highway powers

This section covers questions 5 to 7 of the consultation.

Q5: Should, in your view, mayors solely hold any highway powers over the KRN?

75% of respondents answered this question. Of those that responded:

  • 47.6% said that they should
  • 47.6% said that they should not
  • 4.8% did not express a clear preference either way

Q6: If powers are held concurrently, should, in your view, the exercise of those powers be subject to the majority or unanimous agreement of constituent authorities?

57% of respondents answered this question. Of those that responded:

  • 53% supported majority agreement
  • 47% supported unanimous agreement

Q7: Which, if any, highway powers should mayors hold for all roads in the city region? Please list the powers that should be transferred.

There was a mixed response from MCAs on whether mayors should solely hold any highway powers over the KRN, with the majority of local authorities opposing this option. Some respondents felt that separating the KRN from the local road network would create new barriers to the existing working relationship between local authorities and MCAs. Most MCAs were of the view that the MCA holding only some powers and duties over the KRN would not be practical, as it could cause discrepancies and confusion over accountability and ownership.

MCAs were largely in favour of delegating any functions held at the MCA level back to the constituent authorities in order to support the delivery of services, programmes and projects costs. However, one MCA was concerned that such a transfer in the balance of powers would not be possible without a significant and costly re-negotiation of their private finance initiative contracts.

One council stated that, “It makes no sense to pick and choose the allocation of functions across or within arbitrary network boundaries. The approach to the network functions needs to deliver in an equitable way for all users in all respects. This feeds into the principle that local democracy is important in ensuring that local policies reflect local preferences and local differences that need to be balanced within a framework of regional policies and strategies.”

Another council thought that the current split of strategic transport authority and highway authority works, and ensures that local communities and their elected representatives are effectively consulted and engaged in the process. However, they did see some scope for improved regional working and efficiency around the KRN but only subject to addressing governance and collaboration issues.

By contrast, most individual and non-local government respondents agreed that mayors alone should hold powers over KRNs, believing this would bring clearer accountability and responsibility, as well as improve deliverability of schemes.

However, there was consensus that collaboration between MCAs and local authorities was important and should continue. One trade body pointed out that if mayors alone held highway powers, it would, “…avoid the current situation where concurrent powers have created a barrier to mayors using these powers, as they are required to get unanimous agreement from all local authorities before they can be used.”

While most MCAs did not have a view on whether powers should be subject to the majority or unanimous agreement of constituent authorities if powers are held concurrently, all local authorities except one were in favour of retaining unanimous agreement.

Of the few MCAs that expressed a view, one pointed out that “on no occasion would a majority vote have changed any decisions made by the combined authority on its KRN.” By contrast, a mayor said, “majority agreement would allow for more efficient decision making and help to prevent any risk that an approach/policy/scheme with regional benefit could be ‘vetoed’ due to localised objections.”

Most individuals and organisations felt that if powers were to continue to be held concurrently, then KRN schemes should be subject to approval through majority voting. They saw unanimous voting as presenting potential barriers to the effective and timely delivery of schemes on the KRN. One passenger group stated that they “…strongly agree that the exercise of powers should be subject to majority agreement, otherwise there is a risk that decisions could be held up due to a single local authority disagreeing.”

Ability to delegate highway powers to local authorities

Q8: Which, if any, highway powers do you think should MCAs be able to delegate to local authorities?

The majority of MCAs and local authorities favoured giving MCAs the ability to delegate any functions they held back to the local authorities, as MCAs would be unlikely to have the capability to carry out the necessary operational, maintenance, and regulation functions.

One council pointed out that “Decisions taken by local authorities are not taken solely on highway grounds. There are other reasons for changing the use of the highway such as regeneration, social wellbeing, and environmental benefit. These are all functions which are carried out by local authorities through other policy areas and disciplines, and to emulate this practice would require more extensive collaboration and resources.”

The majority of individuals and non-government organisations favoured giving MCAs the ability to delegate functions back to local authorities. One organisation raised concerns over MCAs holding powers for functions such as permit schemes, lane rental and network coordination. They felt such powers should remain with local authorities, citing reductions in network occupancy and work durations in support of their view that current structures and processes are working effectively.

Power to direct

Q9: Should mayors have a power of direction on the KRN or in certain circumstances on other roads?

68% of respondents answered this question. Of those that responded:

  • 42% said that they should
  • 47% said that they should not
  • 11% did not express a clear preference either way

Q9: Should mayors have a power of direction on the KRN or in certain circumstances on other roads?

Organisation Agree Neither Disagree Not completed
Individuals 9 2 5 1
Non-government organisations 3 1 0 8
MCAs 2 0 2 7
Local authority 2 1 11 2

Providing mayors with the power to direct a local authority to deliver schemes in certain circumstances (such as to implement schemes agreed in their local transport plan (LTP)) received mixed support from MCAs but less support from local authorities.

Some felt that this option could provide some advantages as a last resort and help to deliver cross boundary or regional network management schemes, as well as strengthen governance and decision-making processes, with the mayor at the forefront of this. However, there was concern from a few local authorities that such a power would be damaging to their relationship with the MCA as it could result in an MCA disregarding local priorities and knowledge.

One council stated that, “if the combined authorities hold the policy and strategy powers there shouldn’t be a need to direct.” Another council suggested local authorities retain existing powers but MCAs have reserve powers to be used in order to deliver agreed priorities in the local transport plan and bus service improvement plan (BSIP) only where a project is considered necessary.

Individual respondents were generally positive about this proposal. They thought that giving mayors the power to direct would help secure commitment for the delivery of strategic schemes on the KRN and streamline delivery. One respondent suggested that a power of direction could remove obstacles to scheme delivery, for example of active travel schemes, which individual respondents argued would deliver benefits in reduced congestion and improved air quality.

The majority of non-government organisations did not respond to this question, but most of those who did supported giving mayors a power of direction as it could enable more schemes that support alternatives to car travel on KRNs.

One organisation suggested that they would like to see stakeholders given the opportunity to feed into such decisions through more engagement and consultation. It was also noted that a power of direction could be used, under certain circumstances, to progress the delivery of schemes that faced more minor obstacles, while ensuring that the principle of collaboration within devolution was protected.

Power to change responsibility for a KRN route

Q10: Should, in your view, mayors and local authorities be able to request from the Secretary of State for Transport that a route is added or removed from the KRN?

73% of respondents answered this question. Of those that responded:

  • 63% said that they should
  • 24% said that they should not
  • 13% did express a clear preference either way

Both MCAs and local authorities were generally in favour of giving mayors and local authorities the power to be able to request from the Secretary State for Transport that a route is added or removed from the KRN. Some respondents suggested this should be based on a clear evidence case for change and only following local agreement with constituent authorities.

One MCA thought that such a power could provide a mechanism to ensure the KRN remains fit for purpose. Another felt that decisions on management of the KRN should rest at a combined authority level without recourse to the Secretary of State. The fact that an MCA is currently able to define the KRN itself outside of legislation was felt to be a strength, allowing for locally agreed actions to be implemented directly and more quickly. There was also concern that involving the Secretary of State could risk undermining current collaborative processes.

Most individual respondents supported this proposal, on the basis that it would be beneficial for KRNs to be redefined as road usage evolves. Only half of non-government organisations responded to this question, but the majority of those that did also supported this proposal for the same reasons.

One respondent noted that “The definition of the Key Route Network as it currently stands was made under a different regime to the one proposed. As changes start to take effect, it is likely that traffic (motor and non-motor) patterns will change, resulting in a need to review the KRN and modify it as necessary.”

Impact of proposals

A number of concerns were expressed about the potential for increased costs and duplication. One MCA pointed out that “such proposals inevitably increase costs to the region at a time of significant budget challenges, and so the burden on local authorities will increase.”

Another MCA cautioned that “any proposals from government must not lead to any confusion to road users on the governance of the network. Having to duplicate systems, procedures, resources and training to fulfil duties on the KRN separate to those on the local roads will be at great expense and those potential costs would be better invested directly into the network.”

One organisation noted that “duplication of effort will clearly lead to increased costs and the possibility of creating a 2-tier approach to the detriment of the local roads would be unacceptable.”

Concerns were also expressed that transferring highway powers from local authorities to MCAs could lead to a drain on resources and the ability to retain staff, and create ambiguity on highway management. One council pointed out that MCAs are not currently set up to take on additional powers and that doubling up some elements of resource could make it harder to recruit staff with the relevant skills and result in service delivery challenges.

Individuals and organisations on the whole felt that the reforms proposed could have positive impacts in terms of helping local government to prioritise wider government strategies such as decarbonisation. One respondent noted that the proposals offered the potential to streamline the engagement process, given that many of the main bus corridors run across local highway authority boundaries. This could enhance the ability to engage with one authority rather than multiple ones.

The majority of individual respondents thought that the proposals would have a positive impact on KRN users with an increase in choice of public transport and active travel for local residents, though some concerns were raised that this could negatively impact car journeys.

One individual noted that “large scale investment and planning is required to change travel habits, and this is best planned for at a metro mayor level, as with the Bee Network in Greater Manchester.”

Government response

Government welcomes the responses received to this consultation. An efficient and well-functioning road network is essential, not only to delivering economic growth but also to making our regions better places to live. Mayors have an important role to play in this but in most cases are currently able to provide only limited oversight and coordination. They generally hold few highway powers over their KRN, in contrast to the powers Transport for London and the Mayor of London hold for GLA roads.

In seeking to improve their transport networks, local authorities, mayors, and combined authorities sometimes have competing priorities which may mean that unanimous agreement on how highways powers should be exercised cannot be reached. This has the potential to create barriers to implementing changes set out in local transport plans or the wider priorities of a city region. The government recognises that this combination of factors can limit a mayor’s ability to introduce transformative city-wide changes.

To unlock the full benefits of a KRN in every city region, it is important that mayors, combined authorities and local authorities work together to deliver ambitious transport goals. This collaboration is best delivered where each have the appropriate powers, with clear responsibilities for decision-making and management of the KRN.

The Levelling Up the United Kingdom White Paper sets out how we will ensure that the strong local leadership that mayors have already shown is strengthened and extended with meaningful powers and responsibility for economic growth.

Strengthening mayors’ decision-making powers over their KRNs represents an important step in delivering local growth. The consultation highlighted the need for mayors and their combined authorities to be provided with sufficient powers to be able to deliver on commitments such as those in their local transport plans (such as additional cycling/walking infrastructure, bus priority, etc.), and hold them accountable for delivery and decisions taken, in a similar way to the Mayor of London in respect of GLA roads. The majority of respondents welcomed the government’s intention to deliver this, with a mixed preference for how this should be done.

Having carefully considered the responses to the consultation, the government is satisfied that there are clear benefits to strengthening mayoral decision-making powers and accountability over their KRN, and that on balance the most proportionate way to deliver this is for:

  • local authorities to remain the highway authority for both KRN and local roads, remaining responsible for maintenance and management of both KRN and local roads, ensuring that road networks remain tightly integrated

  • mayors to be provided with a power to direct their local authorities to take forward measures on the KRN. This will ensure mayors have the full powers needed to deliver on local transport plans and the wider priorities of the city region

  • KRNs to be defined locally by agreement of local authorities, the MCA and mayor, rather than being defined via secondary legislation, to allow them to be updated where necessary

  • mayors, MCAs and local authorities to be able to request that a road is removed or added to the KRN by approval of the Secretary of State, where agreement cannot be reached locally

In taking this approach, the government has recognised the concerns expressed by respondents about making MCAs the highway and traffic authority solely responsible for all aspects of decision making, delivery and management of the KRN in place of local authorities. Of particular significance was the risk of undermining collaboration between MCAs and their local authorities, introducing friction between the KRN and local roads, and the cost to MCAs in setting up as a highway and traffic authority.

Like many respondents, the government wants to ensure there is continued close collaboration between local authorities, mayors, and combined authorities. This approach will retain this, while giving mayors access to additional powers over the KRN. We expect most projects on the KRN will be agreed between all the relevant authorities and that a power of direction may be used infrequently. However, it will allow for places to be ambitious in addressing transport issues in their area, with the powers to ensure they can turn those plans into reality.

To make the most of the KRN, it is vital that it remains seamlessly integrated with the local roads that join it. We recognise the risk raised in consultation responses that making the combined authority the highway authority would see adjoining local roads and KRN roads managed by different authorities, and could create unnecessary friction between the two.

While the proposal to make MCAs the highway and traffic authority had most support from individuals and non-government organisations overall, it is clear from the responses that this was based on the desire to speed up projects and remove barriers to delivery of road improvements, bus priority and cycling and walking infrastructure. Our expectation is that a power of direction will have the same benefits, but without removing existing powers from local authorities.

Establishing an additional highway and traffic authority in each combined authority area would have created duplication of functions and significant extra cost. We consider a power of direction a more proportionate approach, delivering additional powers for mayors with minimal duplication.

Existing KRNs (where a power of direction would apply) have been agreed locally between local authorities, mayors and combined authorities, and we intend to continue this approach, including for any new KRNs in other areas, with a requirement for agreed KRNs to be published online.

Where agreement about whether a specific road should be part of the KRN cannot be reached locally, we will allow local authorities, mayors or combined authorities to be able to request that the Secretary of State add or remove a road from a KRN. This replicates a similar power that applies to GLA roads in London and we expect it will be required rarely, but it will help to ensure that KRNs remain fit for purpose.

The proposed measures will affect existing MCAs and any other MCAs that may be established in future. Currently there are MCAs and Mayoral County Combined Authorities covering or due to cover the following areas:

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • East Midlands
  • Greater Manchester
  • Liverpool City region
  • North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities (operating under a Joint Transport Committee)
  • South Yorkshire
  • Tees Valley
  • West of England
  • West Midlands
  • West Yorkshire
  • York & North Yorkshire

Next steps

The government will seek to legislate to give the Secretary of State the power to create a power of direction for mayors over their KRN. Subject to this power being enacted, individual statutory instruments will then need to be made to confer powers of direction on individual mayors.

Consultation table 1 – potential mayoral powers and functions for KRNs

Functions Comment Delegable to local authority?
Highways maintenance Mayors would determine maintenance and improvement requirements for the KRN. Delivery of this could remain with LAs and existing asset management arrangements Yes – could be delivered under existing asset management arrangements.
Parking Mayors to be responsible for rules and provision of parking on the KRN No – decision making responsibilities on the KRN would remain with MCAs, while the implementation of changes would be delivered under highway maintenance arrangements.
Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) Mayors to be responsible for TROs on the KRN, including for bus lanes, parking and loading restrictions, red routes, banned movements, cycle lanes, traffic signal junctions, crossings No
Traffic signs and signalling Mayors to be responsible for signs and signalling on the KRN Yes – for maintenance and improvements to signs and signalling. These can be maintained under existing highway maintenance arrangements.
Street works and permits Mayors to be responsible for managing street works and issuing permits on the KRN No
Enforcement of traffic offences Mayors to be able to hold enforcement powers under Part 6, Traffic Management Act 2004 (powers on bus lane contraventions already held by some MCAs) Yes – it is preferable to ensure a single, integrated enforcement programme across a city region, irrespective of whether a road is on the KRN or not.

Table 1 Potential mayoral powers and functions for KRNs

Respondents treated the above functions as a whole when answering question 2.