M25 widening wastes £1bn of public money claim MPs

Laurie Dealer notes with interest MPs suggestion the project to widen two stretches of the M25 could have wasted £1bn of public money.

Fingers appear to be pointing at the Highways Agency, who gave poor cost estimates for the widening scheme, says a public account committee, and did not look at possible cheaper alternatives.

Plus the committee questioned why it had taken nine years to sign a contract with a private company to do the work.

Back in the dim and distant past, when the M25 was being built, it was believed the project was designed to a genuine bypass so travellers from the regions could get to other regions without negotiating the mighty metropolis. Only for local government to complain to big government that it could not use the bypass to service its vicinity, forcing a redesign with countless junctions to every passing borough.

It was really built piece meal style and only really connected by accident that design.

Studies carried out by the Institute for Mythology estimate that 90% of traffic only uses the M25 up to five miles, while 25% of motorists travel along it for more than 10 miles.

VOSA and industry to work side-by-side

VOSA chief Alastair Peoples has turned to the industry to help free up the agency's time so that it can focus on enforcement and licensing.

Subject to the Transport Minister's approval, Peoples and the leading trade associations have agreed four areas to jointly develop over the coming year:

• Increase the percentage of new operators signing up to VOSA's online Operator Self-Service;

• Pilot a new service so that operators can access their own test history;

• Increase the percentage of red-rated operators who have access to their own test history and Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS);

• Pilot the use of third-party data to improve the targeting of VOSA's enforcement activity.

"Every vehicle we stop at the roadside costs [VOSA] on average £150 in terms of manpower, overheads, etc, and we're probably only stopping 1% of the total non-compliant fleet," says Peoples.

Peoples has plenty of other ideas, but with a 20% reduction in headcount this year, VOSA has limited resource and has challenged the trade associations to get into spaces that VOSA can get out of.

John Lewis, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), says VOSA is using the industry to help those that want to comply, "leaving VOSA to go after those that don't want to".

James Hookham, MD of policy and communications at the FTA, says: "Priority is the name of the game because VOSA can't do everything anymore; it's just got to focus on what's important. A number of operators still approach VOSA for training and education, for example but perhaps this would be best handled by one of the trade associations?"