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Winning the arguments: Government drops plans for new tolls and private roads

Sian Berry's picture
M6 Toll Exit by Sean Marshall on flickr

5 December: As the M6 Toll marks ten dismal years, the Government is learning the lessons and abandoning plans to pull private money into new road building.

Led by the Treasury’s desire to put money into big construction projects without affecting the country’s balance sheet, the Government has been pursuing ways to build a new wave of privately owned roads for the past two years, but this project is now unravelling fast.

I talked to the World at One yesterday after the National Infrastructure Plan announcement confirmed they were dropping plans to toll the A14 in Cambridgeshire. We also spoke with Radio 5 Live yesterday evening in a live broadcast from the A14 itself.

This is big news and a significant change in tactics for the Government. Sources told the BBC that 'no other road tolls are planned', showing how far from favour this policy has fallen in the past two years

But the Government should have learned the lessons of the M6 Toll long before proposing to build more new roads like it, and we have been warning them about this since the A14 proposal was first put forward in the 2011 Autumn Statement. The failure of the M6 Toll has always pointed to a new generation of toll roads being a damaging, risky and counterproductive policy for the UK.

This week we published a detailed review of the M6 Toll as its 10th Anniversary approaches, showing it has failed to relieve the M6 and failed to repay investors, while causing immense amounts of environmental damage. Over the past two years we have also briefed investors on the risks of toll road investment and warned about the effects of tolls pushing even more traffic onto local roads around the A14.

It seems the Government is listening to our arguments about the rest of its private roads project because another pillar of the plan - Highways Agency privatisation - has also recently been shelved

This idea was first announced by the Prime Minister in March 2012. In a speech to the CBI he said: "I have asked the Department for Transport and the Treasury to carry out a feasibility study of new ownership and financing models for the national roads system and to report progress to me in the Autumn".

In response we published a report Problems with Private Roads showing the dangers of all the models of privatisation the Government was considering and – with hundreds of our supporters – petitioned the Prime Minister to give up on these plans and keep our road network under public control.

Stephen Joseph and Sian Berry at Downing Street with our petitionThis July, nearly a year later than planned, the results of the Department for Transport's work was published in its command paper Action for Roads and the proposals stopped far short of user charging and of private ownership of any kind, setting out a plan to create a company that is closely regulated and wholly government-owned.

These changes are a victory for our campaign and for common sense. But we have much more still to do - the A14 has not been cancelled and its whole £1.5 billion cost, along with the destruction of another swathe of countryside, will now be covered from the public purse (read our many objections to this plan here).

Meanwhile, many other huge and expensive road projects are also starting to make their way through the planning process, with local and national campaigners geared up to stop them. These include:

With tolling much less likely and private ownership off the table, we will campaign even harder to prevent public money - which could be used to reduce traffic and improve public transport - from being wasted on these schemes.