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Greener roads: putting our vision into practice

Former campaigner's picture
A27 Falmer from the air

Imagine a world where highways managers invested in making existing roads greener, rather than building new ones. Our new report ‘Roads and the Environment’, sponsored by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, shows how to shape a road network that is better, not bigger.

Last year, with other environmental groups, we set out our vision for the future of England’s strategic road network, calling for a green retrofit for roads and stronger protection for the natural environment and human health.

Our latest report, Roads and the Environment, sponsored by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, shows how Highways England could use the resources in the Road Investment Strategy to put that vision into practice.

As the Chairman of the Fund’s trustees, David Hutchinson, writes, our report “is not intended to be a prescriptive ‘workshop manual’, rather it is a source book of ideas for making our roads, old and new, fit more sensitively into the landscapes and ecosystems through which they pass. We hope that it will help to inspire a new generation of highway engineers to think beyond the engineering basics.”

This project reflects the mission of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund to promote better and safer roads in terms of design, engineering and aesthetics.

In the report we look at how Highways England and other highways managers can intervene in practical ways to make roads better for the environment and for all road users.

The report includes many examples of good practice from the UK and around the world, such as colouring gantries on the M1 brown rather than grey to blend into the wooded setting of Hardwick Hall, or cladding bridges and barriers in local stone.

We show how investing in green infrastructure has multiple benefits, creating a more attractive environment for road users and the landscapes and ecosystems through which roads pass. In Los Angeles, highways engineers switched from using concrete storm drains to planting bioswales to deal with highway drainage. Closer to home, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has been working with Highways England to make sustainable motorway verge maintenance a success.

From green bridges over roads to green roofs for service stations, there is so much potential to change our road network for the better.

We also look at the policy framework needed to deliver such improvements, including how environmental costs and benefits are assessed and a fresh approach to maintenance and make recommendations on how the resources for environmental work already available to Highways England could be even better used in future.

As part of this, we included detailed case studies of potential improvements to the A27 corridor in East Sussex, learned lessons from the A14 project in Cambridgeshire, and identified other locations for similar intervention.

Throughout, our emphasis has been on making the current road network safer, greener and more in keeping with its surroundings, rather than increasing its capacity.

We were fortunate to have advice from an excellent steering group – Sue Percy from CIHT, Steve Gooding from the RAC Foundation (representing the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund), John Stewart (Vice Chair, Campaign for Better Transport) and Rachel Hackett from The Wildlife Trusts. We are also grateful to a wide range of contributors who assisted with evidence for the report.

The report comes as the Government is developing the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) which will allocate funding for the strategic road network of motorways and trunk roads to Highways England.

We have consistently called for roads funding to be used to make the roads we have better, rather than bigger. Along the way, we’ve achieved some success:  Highways England has designated funds for environmental improvements and a Design Panel with a mission to make roads sit better in the landscape. Now we want to see these resources used to deliver real improvements to the existing road network and undo some of the errors of the past.

With many inspiring examples and practical recommendations, we hope our report makes a positive contribution to delivering roads that are better, not bigger.