The organisation in charge of England’s motorways has announced a new sustainability division as it attempts to cut emissions from the strategic road network. National Highways says its new Environmental Sustainability division will work with the organisation's board members in a bid to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Headed up by Stephen Elderkin, the new team of 50 people is intended to “create additional capacity and capability” for National Highways’ sustainability plans, and “raise the profile” of the environment within the organisation. It’s also hoped the team will develop a new “environmental strategy” for the government-run company, which is tasked with looking after England’s motorways and major A-roads.

In particular, the new division will have a selection of key objectives, including implementing projects that improve biodiversity around the network. The division will also be tasked with initiatives that reduce the impact of the network on its surrounding environment, and developing the company’s “long-term vision” for sustainability.

British motorway M25 during sunset

In the longer term, the team will also be employed to achieve National Highways’ plan to hit net-zero “corporate emissions” by 2030. That covers the company’s own operations, including grit spreading and the operation of gantries that control smart motorways.

Once that target has been hit, the company plans to ensure its sub-contracted construction and maintenance operations, including roadworks and improvements to the network, are net-zero-emission by 2040. Finally, the company wants to achieve net zero for road user emissions by 2050, although that is part of an overall government plan.

M62 Motorway looking towards Huddersfield, Lancashire England

“It’s a privilege to take on this role at such a critical time,” said the new division’s leader, Stephen Elderkin. “We’ve seen how COP26 has brought heightened public recognition of the need for action on climate change. National Highways connects the country, playing a vital role in national prosperity.

“But we must do that sustainably, making our contribution to achieving a net zero economy and showing ambition and leadership to leave a positive legacy through our approach to the environment. The challenge to us and the industry is to demonstrate how we are delivering improved environment outcomes; rapidly decarbonising transport and supporting biodiversity to create the cleaner, greener network a zero carbon Britain needs.

“The environmental challenges we face can only be achieved by working together - I look forward to working with our supply chain partners and stakeholders to achieve our ambitious goals.”