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Roads to Nowhere

Fury at Chancellor's plan for the largest roads programme "for half a century"

Sian Berry's picture

26 June 2013: The detail of the Government's infrastructure plans for the next five years will be given tomorrow, but the Chancellor has made his aims clear today.

While government departments will face deep cuts in spending (particularly Defra and DECC as the Guardian details here) capital budgets are kept high and focused particularly onto infrastructure.

In his speech today George Osborne told Parliament: "we are announcing the largest programme of investment in our roads for half a century" and tomorrow we will have an update on the National Infrastructure Plan along with details of the  programmes – and some of the individual road schemes – that will be funded up to 2019.

Any spending earmarked for new roads is likely to be directed at the projects identified on our online map of road-building proposals (current total 238 schemes!), many of which are local authority road-building schemes seeking funding from the new Local Transport Boards. The LTBs could receive a direct funding boost tomorrow or could be folded into the new Single Local Growth Fund pot, which is expected to provide £10 billion over the Spending Review period. And there remains the possibility of the Highways Agency being asked to revive some very large zombie schemes from the last big road programme of the 1990s.

Here are some of the reactions today from the transport and environment sphere to the Chancellor's focus on promoting the least green infrastructure projects instead of more sensible measures like public transport, energy saving, flood defences and local road maintenance.

Campaign for Better Transport's Stephen Joseph:

"At first sight, the Chancellor’s announcement means big new roads carved across the countryside while potholes multiply and local buses get cut.

"Massive spending on new roads might have been in vogue 50 years ago, but what the country needs now is better management of our increasingly potholed network and to provide real choices about how to get around. The cuts in revenue spending will condemn us to poorly maintained roads, more expensive train fares and cuts in bus services."

Over on Liberal Conspiracy, Andrew Allen from Campaign for Better Transport warns the Chancellor what to expect next:

"Although we won’t get the detail until Danny Alexander speaks tomorrow, it appears certain that a huge tranche of money will go on new road projects. Schemes like the A14 in Cambridgeshire and Mersey Gateway Bridge will doubtless be announced yet again and be joined by zombie schemes resurrected from the infamous 1989 Roads to Prosperity White Paper. All this will be highly controversial, lighting the blue touch paper for a new wave of roads protests."

The Wildlife Trusts' Paul Wilkinson:

"During this Spending Review, the Treasury appears to have conveniently misplaced its own Green Book guidance on assessing economic and environmental benefits.  Road schemes such as the proposed £1 billion extension of the M4 through the Gwent Levels in Wales have little or no economic justification and will cause irreversible damage to wildlife and valuable landscapes.  Instead of supporting the UK’s long-term recovery through investment in rebuilding our natural capital, the Chancellor is concreting over the countryside in a short-sighted bid for growth."

Green MP Caroline Lucas:

"Last night, President Obama outlined the urgent need to act on climate change and the benefits this would bring the American people in terms of manufacturing, jobs and protection from the impacts of climate change.

"By committing the government to reckless spending on polluting high carbon infrastructure such as roads, airports and shale gas instead of investing in the jobs-rich green economy through, for example, renewable energy and energy efficiency, George Osborne is denying the British people those same huge benefits – and a more positive vision of the future."

The Institute of Civil Engineers' Director General, Nick Baveystock was disappointed in the lack support for road maintenance:

"It is however, not all good news for infrastructure. Departmental cuts will inevitably place further pressure on local authority budgets, with road maintenance likely to suffer the brunt. The poor condition of many local roads is a drag on the economy and the reactive 'quick fix' approach to maintenance is costly. Local authorities must increase efficiency and make the transition to cost efficient, planned maintenance going forwards. But first and foremost, we need a focussed, joint central and local government programme to finally clear the backlog."

Sustrans' Jason Torrance:

"Investment in infrastructure is key to stimulating the UK’s economy, but the government is mistaken if it thinks large scale investment in new roads is anything but a drain on the taxpayer.

“Investment in infrastructure that prioritises walking, cycling and public transport and takes the two-thirds of journeys under five miles off our roads would transform local economies and increase people’s travel choices. By providing people with healthy and affordable transport options the government would dramatically ease congestion, improve our health and save the economy billions."

Protest about new road-building plans on 13th July

On Saturday 13th July at Crowhurst in East Sussex, we're holding our first national rally to raise the alarm about a huge programme of destructive new roads. The event is being held in association with Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trusts, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, RSPB and Friends of the Earth, as well as local campaigners against the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road, to highlight the destruction of a precious national asset in the Combe Haven Valley and to protest about the prospect of more destruction.