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Roads to Nowhere

New road plans from the Treasury are a colossal transport policy error

Sian Berry's picture

27 June 2013: Widespread road-building plans announced today by the Government will blight the country for generations to come.

Treasury Minister Danny Alexander gave details today of a £28 billion road-building plan for the next 6 years in what he called "The greatest investment in our roads since the 1970s".

The full set of summary bullet points on roads from the document released today 'Investing in Britain's Future' are copied below and are frightening enough, but the details of some of these proposals are even more worrying, particularly where they take funds from cycling and other more rational transport projects.

On the Highways Agency network, a number of existing schemes were re-announced along with what seem to be new projects at the M23 Gatwick junction and on the M1 in the East Midlands. However, the stated long-term aim to dual all of the non-motorway Highways Agency network is the most alarming prospect, and could revive some of the most damaging of the 1990s schemes that had been dropped due to cost and environmental concerns.

Specifically, the set of major feasibility studies announced (for the A303, the A1 Newcastle-Gateshead Western Bypass and north to Scotland, the A27 along the south coast, roads around Leeds Airport and between Sheffield and Manchester) could end up creating the equivalent of motorways through Stonehenge and the Blackdown Hills AONB, the South Downs National Park and across the Pennines. This would threaten some of our most precious landscapes and habitats, and the process of carrying out these feasibility studies will, in the meantime, create widespread blight and uncertainty.

For local transport, things are almost as bad, with the only clear ring-fencing being given to repairs (which was given £10 billion in one piece of good news for roads today).  Local budgets for sustainable transport, including some of the Integrated Transport Block and funds previously given via the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, are now going to be folded into a single pot controlled by the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships. Our Chief Executive Stephen Joseph has pointed out this means no guaranteed funding at all for greener transport outside London. The idea of a £1bn Office for Active Travel to promote walking and cycling through large-scale investment has also been comprehensively dumped.

On the major road schemes that have been on the cards for a while, there were by contrast no major new breakthroughs to promote. The Mersey Gateway Bridge was 'announced' yet again, and the A14 in Cambridgeshire is still faced with plans for a large tolled bypass without a clear funding package. The Treasury documents say the A14 scheme will be hurried up to start as early as 2016, but simply restate the previous funding plans: "Funding will be supported by contributions from local authorities and local enterprise partnership plus tolling." This indicates no major new public money has been committed to the scheme and there are still major problems with the rate of tolling and its effect on local road congestion as last year's study found.

Interestingly too, no major commitment was made to fund the Lower Thames Crossing, currently undergoing a consultation on different route options. This appeared only in the schematic maps showing projects in each region, and was not mentioned otherwise.

Overall, however, this Spending Round has been as bad as we feared - if not worse - in terms of raising the zombie roads programmes of old. If the Government believes it can revive schemes that were abandoned for good reason twenty years ago, while at the same time abandoning all its commitments to local sustainable travel, and not face similarly fierce opposition it needs to think again!

Come to our national Rally Against Road-Building on 13th July

What the document says:

This is the full text of the introduction to the Roads chapter of 'Investing in Britain's Future'...

The Government  will invest over £28 billion in enhancements and maintenance of national and local roads to:

  • add extra lanes to the busiest motorways, the equivalent of at least an additional 221 lane miles, by opening the hard shoulder to traffic and using new technology;
  • build all available Highways Agency road projects, tackling the most congested parts of the network, subject to value for money and deliverability, including the A14 from Cambridge to Huntingdon and M4 from London to Reading;
  • identify and fund solutions to tackle some of the most notorious and longstanding road hot spots in the country, including feasibility studies to look at problems on the A303 to the South West, the A27 on the south coast, the A1 north of Newcastle, the A1 Newcastle-Gateshead Western by-pass, connectivity to Leeds airport and trans-Pennine routes between Sheffield and Manchester;
  • upgrade the national non-motorway network managed by the Highways Agency with a large proportion moved to dual-lane and grade-separated road standard to ensure free-flowing traffic nationwide;
  • repair the national and local road network. A total commitment of £10 billion with nearly £6 billion to help local authorities repair the local road network and over £4 billion to enable the Highways Agency to resurface the vast majority of the national network by 2020-21; and
  • transform the Highways Agency into a publicly-owned corporation, drawing on the findings of the Cook Review, which has the long-term funding certainty and flexibility which will enable it to deliver capital efficiencies worth £600 million by 2020-21.