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New 'watchdog' and 'monitor' will hold reformed Highways Agency to account, says UK government

New bodies which will monitor the performance of the strategic road network and champion the needs of its users will be created as part of plans to hold a reconstituted Highways Agency to account, the UK government has announced.

The Infrastructure Bill, which is currently before parliament, will convert the existing Highways Agency into a more flexible publicly-owned corporation. The government has now set out more details of the bodies that will hold this new company to account, backed by greater powers to impose fines and carry out independent enforcement activity.

"The reform of the Highways Agency and the introduction of a long term vision for the road network is at the heart of this government's £24 billion commitment to improving our road network and ensuring long term certainty in unlocking economic growth," said John Hayes, the roads minister.

"These changes, along with the introduction of a new road monitor and watchdog, will make sure road users' voices are heard and that decisions made are accountable to taxpayers," he said.

Currently expected to receive royal assent by March 2015, the Infrastructure Bill will convert the Highways Agency into a government-owned company responsible for England's 4,300 mile strategic road network, with its own five-year 'roads investment strategy' budget. The Highways Agency is currently an executive agency of the Department for Transport (DfT). The strategic road network is made up of almost all of England's motorways and its most important 'A' roads

The government has been working with the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and Passenger Focus, which represents the interests of public transport passengers, to develop the bodies which will hold the new Highways Agency to account. The new road network monitor will be run by the ORR and have the same powers as other economic regulators to issue fines if the Highways Agency does not comply with the conditions of its licence.

Passenger Focus is to be rebranded as Transport Focus, and its work divided into two streams: 'Transport Focus – passengers', which will carry out its existing work on behalf of rail, bus, coach and tram passengers; and 'Transport Focus – road users', which will work on behalf of motorists and business users of the strategic roads network as well as cyclists and walkers. As part of its work, the new Transport Focus will carry out annual surveys and regular research into common problems experienced by road users.

The government has published a number of amendments to the Infrastructure Bill which will give the ORR the power to carry out independent enforcement activity against the Highways Agency and to expand the remit of Transport Focus. Both bodies will be awarded more funding and their existing work will not be affected, the DfT said.

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