Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: road network and traffic

Updated 8 May 2015

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/managing-improving-and-investing-in-the-road-network. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


There are increasing numbers of vehicles on UK roads. We need to improve the quality of our road network and reduce congestion and disruptions to journeys for road users. We also need to make sure that traffic signs give road users the information they need to use roads safely and efficiently, and ensure that local parking enforcement is fair and effective.


Managing and improving the road network

The road network has suffered from a lack of investment for too long. This has worsened the experience of road users and damaged the UK’s ability to compete. The government’s aim is to create a national road network fit for the 21st century, which gives road users the best possible quality of service and supports broader economic, environmental and safety goals.

To address issues with the existing network, we announced in June 2013, in Investing in Britain’s future, plans to invest £28 billion to improve and maintain the road networks and support jobs and growth

We published the roads command paper Action for roads in July 2013, announcing plans to:

  • transform the Highways Agency into a government-owned strategic highways company, with the independence to run the roads on a day-to-day basis more effectively and provide a better service to road users
  • introduce a road investment strategy, setting out a long-term investment plan for the network, with a strategic vision, clear performance requirements and multi-year funding

We launched a consultation to seek views on the further detail of these plans and published its response.

In June 2014 we introduced the Infrastructure Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech in June 2014. This proposed the legislation needed to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company and provide funding for strategic road investment. We also published further information about the governance arrangements for the new strategic highways company.

In December 2014 we launched a Road investment strategy. This sets out a programme for our motorways and major roads with funding needed to plan ahead effectively.

In February 2015, the Infrastructure Bill became the Infrastructure Act. The act will allow for the creation of Highways England, the new government-owned company. The new operator will use long-term funding to ensure improvements to the major road network are cost efficient and support economic growth.

Traffic signs

To make sure road signs, traffic signals and road markings continue to give road users the information they need we are:

  • developing an updated traffic sign system that helps all road users
  • giving local councils more freedom to decide about signs
  • encouraging local councils to place traffic signs only where needed and to remove those that are confusing or unnecessary

Road congestion and parking enforcement

To reduce road congestion, we have:

  • created a Local Pinch Point Fund worth £170 million to remove bottlenecks on the local highway network
  • introduced the Dart Charge payment service on the Dartford Crossing

We are also encouraging people to walk, cycle or use public transport as an alternative to travelling by car.

Street works

Street works are works done by or for utility companies (electricity, gas, water and telecoms), and are necessary to provide and maintain our essential services. They are different from road works, which are works done by or for highway authorities to maintain, repair or improve roads.

To make sure street works are carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible, the government provides a considerable amount of guidance to the street works sector. In addition, local councils have powers to coordinate and inspect street works in their local area.

We’re helping local councils to manage street works effectively by:

  • introducing ‘pioneer’ lane rental schemes which provide an incentive for utility companies to carry out street works faster with less traffic disruption
  • ending the need for the government to issue approval for local council permit schemes
  • increasing penalty charges where works take longer than agreed – raising the charge up to a daily maximum of £5000
  • making sure utility companies and others who carry out street works communicate clearly with local authorities and return roads to a good condition after they have carried out works
  • considering changes to legislation surrounding the requirements for street works operatives and supervisors to hold specific qualifications to make the whole process more rational and easier to monitor
  • providing practical guidance on how street works should be carried out

We have also provided draft planning conditions for local councils to consider applying to streets in new housing developments.


In May 2010, as part of the coalition agreement, we announced our intention to introduce new powers for local councils that lets them make their own decisions on reducing congestion on local roads.

To make sure that road signs continue to meet the needs of road users the Department for Transport ran a review on the approach to traffic signing and published a new Signing the way policy in October 2011.

In November 2011, Alan Cook published his independent report A fresh start for the strategic road network setting out the challenges faced in managing the network and outlining a package of reforms to improve the current operating model.

In March 2012, the Prime Minister set out his vision for a horizon-shift in the national infrastructure investment. The Department for Transport and the Treasury have since been examining institutional reform options for the strategic road network, with a view to making the money that motorists already pay go further to deliver better overall value for motorists and taxpayers, and ensuring that the network has the future capital investment required to support national prosperity and economic growth.

To shape this policy, we used economic and statistical analysis, appraisal, evaluation, modelling and research.

Bills and legislation

Traffic signs

The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 set the rules for traffic signs, traffic lights and road markings that can be used on roads in England, Scotland and Wales. There have been several amendments to these regulations, and the most recent is the Traffic Signs (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations and General Directions 2011.

Zebra, Pelican and Puffin crossings have their own regulations.

Local council permit schemes

Local council permit schemes require anyone carrying out street works or road works to apply for a permit in advance and allow local councils to set conditions on timing, coordination and the amount of road space left available to road users.

Companies who work without a permit or break the conditions will be fined.

The government gives guidance to help local authorities develop and run permit schemes. We are working to simplify the process by removing the need for the government to approve new schemes.

Street works charges

We raised the ‘over-run’ charge if utilities companies take longer than agreed to complete works. The daily maximum is £5000, with higher charges on the fourth and subsequent days. New regulations setting this out came into force in October 2012.

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012: recovery of unpaid parking charges

This guidance contains new laws relating to the recovery of unpaid parking charges on private land under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The laws came into effect on 1 October 2012.

Traffic Management Act 2004

The Traffic Management Act (2004) was introduced to reduce congestion and disruption on the road network. The Traffic Management Act places a duty on local traffic councils to ensure the smooth movement of traffic on their road network and those networks of surrounding council.

Who we’ve consulted

In October 2013 we launched a consultation about turning the Highways Agency into a government-owned company.

In May 2013 we consulted about options for a new Lower Thames Crossing. In July 2014 we published our response to the consultation.

In March 2012 we consulted on proposals to remove the current requirement for street works operatives and supervisors to hold specific qualifications.

In January 2012 we ran a consultation on removing the need for government to approve local permit schemes. In August 2014 we consulted on proposed amendments to the 2007 permit scheme regulations to take account of changes to the scheme approval process.

In August 2011, we ran a consultation on lane rental schemes with highway authorities, street works undertakers, road users, the business community, and suppliers of street works management systems and software.

Appendix 1: lane rental schemes

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Lane rental involves the local council applying a daily charge where street works obstruct traffic at the busiest times, making it cheaper to carry out works at less disruptive times.

Following a consultation carried out in late 2011, the government is trialling lane rental schemes with a small number of local councils in England.

The government is inviting local authorities to operate ‘pioneer’ schemes, and has published guidance on lane rental schemes for interested local authorities.

Evidence from the performance of the ‘pioneer’ schemes will help us make future decisions on whether lane rental should be used in other places.

Any money raised from lane rental is used to help reduce the disruption caused by works, such as funding research and development into disruption-saving techniques and technologies.

Appendix 2: traffic signs

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Traffic sign images

All road users need to understand traffic signs. The Know Your Traffic Signs guide illustrates and explains most of the traffic signs that road users are likely to see.

Traffic sign images are available in the traffic signs image database. They are downloadable as EPS, JPG and PDF files. The images in this database are aimed mainly at media professionals for reproduction in printed matter or on screen.

For traffic sign designers and manufacturers, working drawings are available.

The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (TSRGD) set out the rules for traffic signs, traffic lights and road markings that can be used in England, Scotland and Wales. If a local council wants to use a sign or marking that is not in TSRGD, it must be specially approved. In England, the Secretary of State for Transport gives this approval.

The traffic signs authorisation database includes details of non-standard traffic signs approved in England since 1 January 2011.

Traffic sign guidance

Detailed guidance for designers on the correct use of traffic signs and road markings is in the traffic signs manual.

The Department for Transport has given every local council in England approvals allowing them to use certain new traffic signs and road markings. This guidance note explains what these are and where they can be used.

Other guidance

This guidance is to increase awareness and offer advice about low bridges and preventing vehicles from hitting bridges: Prevention of bridge strikes good practice guide

This booklet, known as the ‘Pink Book’, is for workers on site who are responsible for operating portable traffic lights at street works and road works: an introduction to the use of portable vehicular signals

The Department for Transport publishes a range of good practice guidance on traffic issues, including:

Appendix 3: developing an evidence based road network policy

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

To ensure that transport systems are effective, transport decisions and policies made by government are informed by economic and statistical analysis, appraisal, evaluation, modelling, and research.

To provide the best evidence base for planning transport policies and schemes, mathematical models are used to analyse complex transport patterns.


The National Transport Model (NTM) is a multi-modal model of land-based transport in Great Britain. The NTM is used to produce national forecasts of traffic and emissions, and to test policies and schemes.

Guidance on transport modelling and appraisal

To take into account developments in modelling practice the department continually undertakes research to improve guidance.

Software and data

Software is available to enable practitioners to assess whether road schemes provide value for money and to estimate traffic growth forecasts.

Transport appraisal and evaluation

Research reports


Further information