The Infrastructure Bill would create a new company to build a bigger motorway network, and reduces the power of local communities to challenge it. Join us and help stand up to this legislation.
The controversial Infrastructure Bill was published today, starting what we predict will be a rocky path through Parliament. Baroness Kramer has introduced the Bill in the House of Lords, ironically as she is the minister mainly responsible for local and sustainable transport and the Bill focuses only on the major A-roads and motorways currently run by the Highways Agency.
The Bill aims to establish a new, private 'Strategic Highways Company' in early 2015, with the Government as sole shareholder, to maintain and expand the major road network.
This company's mission would be to implement a 'Road Investment Strategy' (RIS) set by the Department for Transport (DfT), and its budget would be set in long-term chunks with the intention tosave costs when contracting out work. The Government's plan is to more than triple the budget for road construction given to the new company - from £1.5 billion in 2014-15 to £3.8 billion in 2020-21.
From a transport policy perspective there are real dangers in the single mode approach to transport planning that would be enshrined in the Bill and the RIS. The locking in of so much funding for road improvements seems very irrational when the best way to improve transport in many areas is to expand rail or bus services, or reduce congestion by getting freight off lorries and on to rail.
We've already had a taste of this ‘roads first’ approach with the Highways Agency's 18 'route based strategies' and the DfT's six major 'feasibility studies', which are developing proposals along key transport corridors in preparation for the first RIS and for new road funding announcements in this year's Autumn Statement.
Despite urgent calls to widen the scope of these studies to look at how other modes of transport could help relieve congestion hotspots, the Agency and the DfT have stuck resolutely to the script of looking only at road transport. This even extends to refusing to put rail lines on the maps used at planning meetings and in their reports!
The focus on cars and lorries extends to how the new Strategic Road Company would be governed and scrutinised. A new watchdog role for Passenger Focus would be established, but their remit would simply be to look after the interests of 'users of highways' not the people whose homes sit next to major roads whose lives are affected far more by noise and pollution from motorways than drivers who, at most, use them for a few hours a day.
Even worse, there is no provision for Parliament to scrutinise or review the RIS and, while the Bill sets out how Passenger Focus's new work would be covered by Freedom of Information laws, it does not do the same for the new company, potentially further reducing the transparency of decisions made about where and how to build new roads.
Combined with the National Policy Statement for National Networks, which is also passing through Parliament over the coming months, this Bill would commit the Government to massive spending on a huge expansion of motorways for most of a decade, harming our natural environment and failing to deal effectively with real transport problems
There was a timely reminder yesterday of the previously well-established lesson that expanding roads doesn't necessarily solve our transport problems but definitely does increase traffic.
The latest DfT statistics show that the only roads on which traffic increased in 2013 were motorways, while the positive trend of flat or falling traffic continued for all other types of road. It's probably no coincidence during 2012 and 2013 the first of a new wave of motorway widening and 'Managed Motorway' schemes were completed to expand the M25 and M62, and with many more road schemes to come if this Bill goes through, we can expect much more traffic to be generated in future.
The second reading of the Infrastructure Bill in the Lords will be on 18 June, and MPs are likely to get the chance to amend it at the end of the summer as well as debate the NPS.
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