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Rising to the Challenge: a shared green vision for RIS2

Former campaigner's picture

Our new report Rising to the Challenge, produced with a large group of environmental charities, offers a positive green vision for the Strategic Road Network.

We’re challenging the Government to rethink the roads programme, and live up to their pledge to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.

Civil servants are busy developing the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) which will shape spending on England’s motorways and major roads from 2020. There’s a lot of talk about technology and growth. But what kind of strategic road network do we need for a sustainable future?

Nationally, the number of car trips is falling. Decreasing numbers of younger adults are buying cars or getting driving licences.

The Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK needs to continue to cut traffic in order to meet vital carbon targets. It’s more important than ever to challenge the assumption that we need to expand the road network.

Our new report, Rising to the Challenge: a shared green vision for RIS2, has been written in partnership with sixteen other environmental charities. With their expert input, we show the range of impacts that major roads have, on everything from our landscape and heritage, to public health; and we share many well-researched proposals on how the road network can be enhanced not expanded, to be better for people and the environment.

Together, we present three priorities for RIS2:

  • Fix it first: focus on the roads we have rather than building new ones
  • An integrated approach: redesign roads to join up better with local transport, walking and cycling.
  • Environmental leadership: deliver on CO2 emissions, air quality and biodiversity.

The report is full of positive policies on cutting carbon emissions, protecting wildlife and the landscape, tackling pollution and improving provision for non-motorists: a shared vision for greener roads.

We want to see stronger protection for landscape and heritage from road schemes, and greater use of  natural interventions such as tree planting to improve flood protection and cut pollution. We want to see pollution tackled at source with the use of quieter road surfaces and a national network of electric vehicle charging points. And of course we continue to call for better provision for walkers, cyclists, equestrians and bus passengers, and greater priority for public transport at key junctions.

The Road Investment Strategy sets the priorities for the Strategic Road Network and agrees the performance indicators on which Highways Englands' delivery of the programme will be judged. Our joint report sets out a range of proposed metrics which aim to shift from measuring activity (such as the number of crossings introduced) to measuring impact (how well crossings are used and how safe users feel). 

It builds on the work we started back in 2015, when we joined with CPRE and other green groups in the report Better not biggercalling for part of the first Road Investment Strategy to be earmarked for a green retrofit on major roads. Our campaign helped secure designated funds of £300 million for environmental works, £250 million for cycling and bus integration and £100 million for air quality within Highways England’s £15billion budget.

Now that action is beginning to bear fruit.

Highways England is planning a major green bridge over the A38 Devon Expressway to re-connect the Haldon Forest SSSI. It will provide safe links for walking and cycling, improved landscaping and will protect deer and other wildlife from traffic. And from Highways England's point of view, it is a good investment in making the road safer and more resilient for the future. 

Other countries have shown that green bridges are good news. In the Netherlands, ‘natuurbruggen’ (nature bridges) are widely used to span main roads and railway lines. In Belgium a new ‘ecoduct’ is being built to provide a safe wildlife corridor between two parts of the Soignes forest, including a line of small pools for amphibians. Further afield, in South Korea, architects have been competing to design a new green bridge over the Gyeongbu expressway, to enhance the landscape as well as protecting wildlife. 

We’ve included these and other examples of best practice from around the world in Rising to the Challenge. And alongside these exemplary schemes, we continue to make the case for smaller scale projects and for a system-wide commitment to environmental management and a low carbon future. 

The range of expertise from environmental groups is impressive: so is the potential to transform the road network for the better. 

As the Government develops the next Road Investment Strategy, we’re challenging them to rethink the roads programme, and live up to their pledge to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.