Decision making

What is the decision?

Essex County Council (ECC) has announced option D as its favoured route option for an upgraded A120 between Braintree and the A12.The favoured route option will then be recommended to Highways England and the Department for Transport for inclusion in the Road Investment Strategy (RIS) 2 after ECC’s statutory call-in period has passed.

Option D’s alignment, if progressed by Highways England, would run from Galleys Corner at Braintree to a junction with the A12 to the south of Kelvedon.

How did you make this decision?

As the A120 is part of the Strategic Road Network and is managed by Highways England, Essex County Council has followed Highways England’s processes to reach this decision.

A key requirement for entry to Highways England’s Road Investment Strategy 2 programme is the assessment of each route option against five cases in accordance with the Government’s five cases Business Case model.

The cases are:

  • Economic
  • Financial
  • Commercial
  • Strategic Fit
  • Management

We have developed a Decision Framework to assess the relative performance of the options against these five business cases. Each route is scored from 1 to 5 against 14 criteria across the five business cases. These individual scores are totalled up and an average taken to allow us to compare all routes.

How much will option D cost?

The most recent estimates suggest that the route will cost approximately £555 million, including inflation.

What are the main benefits for option D?
  • For every £1 million spent on upgrading the A120; residents, road users and businesses will see £3.75 million in benefits
  • It delivers the best value-for-money to the taxpayer
  • It has the lowest impact on the environment
  • It saves up to 15 minutes in journey times between Braintree and Colchester during rush hour
Why is Essex County Council leading the A120 study instead of Highways England?

Whilst the A120 is a trunk road and is therefore managed by Highways England, in 2015 the Government agreed that Essex County Council would lead on the work to determine the way forward. Essex County Council has followed Highways England’s processes throughout the study and will be handing it over in due course to Highways England who will make a Preferred Route Announcement (PRA) based on the results of the study.

You previously said an announcement on a favoured route option(s) would be made in autumn 2017. Why has it taken you until June 2018 to make a decision on a single favoured route?

Essex County Council wants to be certain that it is recommending to the Government the route that is best for residents, road-users, the economy, and the country as a whole. As such, as there was no overwhelmingly strong single candidate option in Autumn 2017, the technical work has continued to progress since November to further analyse each of the routes and ensure that the County Council can put forward a recommendation on the best possible option.

It is important to highlight that all work undertaken by Essex County Council is advisory at this stage, and a Preferred Route Announcement (PRA) can only be made by Highways England in association with the Department for Transport.

Does this announcement mean that this option is definitely going to be built?

We hope so but all work undertaken by Essex County Council is advisory at this stage, and a Preferred Route Announcement (PRA) can only be made by Highways England in association with the Department for Transport.

It is anticipated that if the A120 is to be included in Highways England’s next funding period, the Road Investment Strategy (RIS) 2, it will be announced in 2019. It is at this point that a selected route option will gain preferred route status.

If the A120 is not included in RIS 2, Essex County Council will continue to lobby the Government to include it for improvement at the earliest possible opportunity.

How have you worked with other councils to make your decision?

We have actively engaged with a number of local authorities to ensure that there is an open and ongoing dialogue with elected representatives of nearby communities. This has included numerous parish councils, Braintree District Council and Colchester Borough Council, and Suffolk County Council as well as a number of other councils and interested parties.

What happens if the A120 is not successful in gaining funding in the Road Investment Strategy (RIS) 2?

If the A120 does not gain funding in RIS 2, Essex County Council will continue to lobby the Government to include it for improvement at the earliest possible opportunity. Upgrading this strategically important road will continue to be essential to unlocking more economic potential in Essex and the wider south east with tangible benefits to road users, businesses and local neighbourhoods.

What happens next?

Now that the favoured route option has passed ECC’s statutory call-in period, it will be recommended to Highways England and the Department of Transport for inclusion in the Road Investment Strategy 2, which is the next funding period for the strategic road network.

Once the scheme has committed funding and a Preferred Route Announcement has been made by Highways England, work will continue to develop the Preferred Route in preparation for the Development Consent Order, which is the planning application for this scheme.

If the scheme progresses as planned, it is anticipated that construction could commence in 2023 with the road ready for use around 2026.

What is a Development Consent Order?

A Development Consent Order (DCO) is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). This includes energy, transport, water and waste projects. The new process was introduced by the Planning Act in 2008. Development Consent Orders are intended to simplify and speed up the process of obtaining planning permission for certain types of project, designated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.


Future growth in Essex

How dependent is the A120 scheme on the A12 being widened?

To undertake a robust feasibility study it is important to make a number of informed assumptions to ensure that the technical work required to develop a scheme can remain, wherever possible, consistent. We have assumed that the A12 will be widened between junction 19 to 25, in accordance with the RIS 1 commitment. We have not modelled a scenario where the A120 connects to a non-widened A12, as this is not a likely scenario.

How does the route support the proposed garden communities?

Whilst the route options, including option D, were not defined with particular locations for development in mind, they all considered the general growth in the region. Developments such as the garden community are not yet committed developments therefore our work has focused on approved housing growth numbers rather than specific proposed schemes.

Essex County Council knows that the scheme needs to cater for an increase in jobs and housing, and the traffic modelling and other studies take this in to consideration.

Does the route take into account local plans for Essex?

All of the route options, including option D, cater for the predicted growth in the area, as derived from the Government’s National Transport and Trip End Models. However, we haven’t defined the options with any particular locations for developments in mind. Rather, we have used predicted growth to help us model how the options would operate. These studies will continue as the scheme develops.



Who is going to fund the route?

As the A120 is a trunk road, it falls under Highways England’s jurisdiction. This means that Highways England will ultimately be responsible for funding the route, although Essex County Council is currently funding the feasibility study with the Government’s backing to determine the way forward.

How does the route support the proposed garden communities?

Statutory blight is normally triggered following the announcement of the preferred route, which is the first time Highways England can say with certainty which properties will be affected by the scheme. Property owners on the line of the route can then ask Highways England to buy their property. Highways England cannot accept blight notices before the Preferred Route Announcement.

It is important to remember that all work undertaken on the A120 Braintree to A12 scheme by Essex County Council is advisory and a Preferred Route Announcement can only be made by Highways England in association with the Department for Transport. It is likely that Highways England will have a Preferred Route Announcement in 2019 if the A120 scheme is included in the Road Investment Strategy 2.

There is information available regarding blight on the Highways England website. However, blight and compulsory purchase orders are governed by a well-established set of processes and if you are impacted, there will be plenty of support available through these processes.



What environmental considerations have you taken into account?

All of the options were assessed against the environmental topics set out in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) Volume 11, as informed by the Environmental Assessment Update guidance in Interim Advice Note (IAN) 125/15. These are: Air quality and carbon emissions; cultural heritage; landscape; nature conservation; geology and soils; materials; noise and vibration; people and communities; and road drainage and water environment. Studies are ongoing and further investigation will be required once a single option has been confirmed by Highways England.

What are the noise and air quality impacts of the remaining routes?

At this stage of assessments, all of the options B to E were considered to have an overall adverse but not significant effect on air quality. The scheme would also lead to a beneficial effect on areas along the existing A120 and in the south east of Braintree by relieving congestion and reducing the amount of traffic using this road. The proposed A120 scheme is anticipated to lead to an overall significant beneficial effect on noise for all routes, due to the change in traffic along the existing A120. Whilst a number of properties have the potential to experience adverse noise effects in relation to the proposed new routes, mitigations such as road design and landscaping will be implemented where appropriate. These areas are located in the rural areas between Braintree and the A12.

How will you ensure minimal environmental impact?

Our scheme objectives include improving the environmental impact of transport on communities along the existing A120 corridor and reducing the impact of new infrastructure on the natural and built environment by design. The environmental assessments have complied with guidelines set out by the Government. Impact on the environment influences the design of the scheme; mitigation will help reduce further outstanding effects which the design process highlights.

What investigation has been carried to ensure that land within the quarry is safe for construction?

Based on initial discussions with the Essex County Council minerals team and the quarry operators, it has been assumed that in the areas of Bradwell Quarry where the routes (all except A) have been backfilled, the material would not have been compacted in accordance with the Specification for Highways Work (SHW).

Therefore, it is unlikely to be suitable for road construction without improvement. In the absence of further information on the quarry backfill material, it was assumed that the existing backfill material would be removed and then re-placed. This is a conservative assumption given the early stages we are in and ground investigation will be carried out in future to fully understand the ground condition in the quarry.

What is the benefit of options B to E passing through the Bradwell Quarry?

The alignments of routes B, C, D and E were designed to pass through the quarry to limit the impacts on the environment and local residents.

How were the options presented at the consultation shortlisted?

Once we had the long list of route options, 68 in total, we looked at each option in more detail through a process called sifting. Sifting is where we assess each option against the objectives and see which ones perform best. The Department for Transport Early Assessment Sifting Tool and transport appraisal process was used as part of the sifting process. This includes criteria such as:

  • Is it the right strategic fit?
  • Does it show value for money?
  • Is there a financial and commercial case for doing it?
  • Can it be delivered?

Each route is scored in relation to how well it meets the objectives on a zero to five scale. At this point, any route which scored less than two was discounted. The sifting process created a shortlist of nine top performing options to take forward to the next stage of assessment and design. The nine shortlisted options were then compared against a series of criteria, relating to environmental risk, engineering considerations and value for money.

The naming convention as outlined in the option assessment report simplified when the number of routes went from 9 to 5 and is outlined below.

9 routes 5 routes

In March 2020, the government announced details of its latest Road Investment Strategy (RIS2), covering April 2020 to March 2025.

The strategy outlines how the government will be investing £27.4 billion in maintaining, improving and building capacity in the strategic road network during the 2020-25 period, including £2.2 billion for the east of England.

The document also looks further ahead and includes a list of ‘pipeline projects’ which will undergo more analysis and design work ahead of being considered for potential future investment.

The A120 Braintree to A12 was identified as a pipeline project and will now be progressed by Highways England.

For more information, email

A120 Braintree to A12 - Highways England 

View: Press Release - A120 Upgrade Drives Forward

Although Highways England is now progressing the A120 upgrade, Essex County Council continues to provide regular updates. To receive these please register your email address