The Highways Agency (HA) is consulting on an update to their policies on reacting to development proposals that are put to them.  The consultation opened on 11 February and closed on 25 March, and the consultation document can be found here. The result will be a replacement for Department for Transport circulars 02/2007 and 01/2008.  The draft replacement guidance can be found here. The most significant changes to be proposed are a relaxation in requirements for service stations.  The changes can be summarised as follows.

The tone of the circular will be changed from the HA merely engaging with the planning system to it helping to deliver sustainable economic growth.

The policy context section clearly needs updating to take into account the National Planning Policy Framework, the emergence of Local Enterprise Partnerships and the disappearance (still not yet complete) of Regional Strategies.  There is also a legal duty to co-operate with local authorities in plan-making placed upon the HA, which is reflected in the new guidance.

The previous rigid requirement for capacity enhancements due to new development, namely that local network conditions must be no worse off after 10 years than if development had not taken place, is made more flexible.

The placement of noise fences is changed from being ‘likely’ to be outside the highway boundary to having to be outside the highway boundary.

The wording for placing advertisements visible from the strategic road network (SRN – ie motorways and trunk roads, for which the HA is responsible) is changed to say they will not be permitted within the highway boundary, and otherwise will only be permitted if there is a clear safety case for doing so.

Three areas are included that were not addressed before:

  • new advice on public art is to be along the same lines as for advertisements;
  • reference is made to a technical advice note on siting telecoms equipment; and
  • an annex sets out guidance on the placement of wind turbines near the strategic road network.

The limited list of development where access to the SRN will be allowed is to be extended to include ‘strategic development’.  Strict compliance with the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges for new accesses is removed.

The main changes to guidance are for the provision of roadside facilities such as service areas.  The spacing of service areas at 30 mile intervals becomes a minimum recommendation; further facilities can be provided subject to market forces and junction spacing requirements.  Picnic areas, tourist information and free air and water no longer need be provided, but the provision of alternative fuels is to be encouraged.  The ban on selling alcohol is removed, leaving local authorities to decide licensing issues.  Restrictions on retail to 500m2 and gaming to 100m2 are removed.  References to trading from lay-bys will be removed and left to other regulation.

Responses to the consultation should be emailed to planningconsultation@highways.gsi.gov.uk; the revised guidance will be issued in ‘mid to late’ 2013.