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New road capacity should be a last resort

Former campaigner's picture

That's our message to the Government as it prepares the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2). 

Our evidence for RIS2 shows how road building is a costly, failed solution, and calls for a fresh approach. 

The Road Investment Strategy sets out priorities and projects for the Strategic Road Network of motorways and trunk roads in England. It represents just 3 per cent of all roads, but takes the lion's share of road spending.

From 2020, a new national roads fund, with proceeds from Vehicle Excise Duty, will be earmarked for delivering RIS2.  Some of it may be passed on to local authorities for other A roads (the Major Road Network) but most will be held by Highways England.

That means an even bigger roads budget - but a smart strategy won't spend it all on bigger roads.

We have set out an alternative approach in our evidence submission for RIS2.  

Echoing our joint report, Rising to the Challenge, we propose the following strategic priorities for the national roads programme:

  1. Fix it first:  safety and maintenance should be the priority in RIS2 ahead of new capacity with a focus on making the current network work better rather than expanding it
  2. Showing environmental leadership: meeting critical targets on CO2 emissions, air quality, and biodiversity is vital and brings positive opportunities. RIS2 can play its part in leading this agenda, not simply seeing it as a constraint.
  3. Promoting green retrofit:  continue to use the designated funds to reduce the environmental impact of existing roads, and make the best practice from this part of ‘business as usual’ for future programmes.
  4. An integrated, multi-modal approach:  create truly integrated transport corridors with high quality provision for public transport, cycling and walking, particularly where major roads meet town and city centres, and contributing to sustainable growth by supporting co-location of homes, jobs and transport hubs.
  5. Making best use of technology: use shared data to improve integrated services, safety and information. RIS2 should prepare the way for the replacement of fuel duty by some form of road usage charge
  6. Partnership working: the delivery of this vision of a robust, integrated, sustainable network should be underpinned by improved partnership working with stakeholders, local and national NGOs and the wider community.

Our full submission brings together research on the impact of major roads from CPRE, on the potential for rail freight to free up road space, and new data from Northampton on how promoting car sharing can cut peak time traffic by up to 20 per cent. 

We make a series of recommendations for what we want to see in RIS2, including:

  • RIS2 should follow the smarter travel hierarchy: reduce demand, widen travel choice, maximise efficiency, and make new road capacity a last resort.
  • RIS2 should confirm a presumption against any new road construction in protected landscapes and World Heritage Sites.
  • RIS2 should have a carbon budget for its programme, and allow for a ‘carbon veto’ to be applied to new road plans  
  • Highways England should be a partner in all Clean Air Zones that include parts of the SRN
  • The work on a “green retrofit” begun in RIS1 should continue in RIS2, supported by designated funds, and with best practice mainstreamed into any new road schemes
  • RIS2 should have an explicit remit to improve integration with public transport as part of a multi modal approach
  • RIS2 should focus on better connections to existing and planned rail freight terminals rather than on building new road capacity to service freight movements
  • RIS2 should seek to ‘bus-proof’ the SRN including at junctions and with bus priority in urban areas
  • RIS2 should have a dedicated fund for Highways England to work with large businesses and employers on green travel plans, to reduce demand on the SRN as it has successfully  done in the past
  • RIS2 should be designed to accommodate road user pricing including environmental incentives
  • Highways England should adopt an open data approach to sharing information on road schemes, maintenance and enhancement projects
  • Consultation on individual road schemes should involve stakeholders from the start, including in identifying scheme priorities and option appraisal, not only in commenting on preferred routes.

Instead of the failed approach of 'predict and provide' we advocate 'decide and provide': first think about the kind of places we want to live and the kind of environment we want for the future, and then plan the right transport to deliver it. 

The Department for Transport will be publishing a Strategic Road Network Initial Report before the end of the year, and a separate report on the Major Road Network, with consultation on both running into 2018.