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Tory ex-minister and direct action protestor unite to warn of dangers of new roads

26 October 2012
A former Conservative Transport Minister and an activist once jailed for opposing road building have come together to launch a report revealing the extent of new road plans in England and Wales.

going backwards report coverFormer MP, Stephen Norris, and campaigner Rebecca Lush Blum have put their name to Going backwards: the new roads programme (1), a research report by Campaign for Better Transport (2). The report reveals plans costing over £30bn to build the equivalent of 772 miles (1244km) of new roads across England and Wales – the same distance as from the Isles of Scilly to the Shetland Isles.

The report highlights the environmental impact and political risks of proposing major developments in the countryside. This follows previous controversy over plans to sell-off publicly owned forests and woodland, and over plans to weaken protection afforded to the green belt.

Steven Norris said

“As Transport Minister I saw first-hand the difficulty in implementing a programme of major road building. Experience tells us that it won’t solve the problems country faces. Now is the time for brave and creative decision-making, not a return to road building policies that were tried and failed in the 1990s.”

Rebecca Lush Blum said

“Road building is slow, expensive, and unpopular. The politicians and business leaders promoting these roads have forgotten the lessons of the past. New roads are certain to be met by grassroots opposition from communities up and down the country.”

The report is based on an examination of national and local infrastructure development plans. It identifies 191 major road building projects including 76 new bypasses, 48 link roads and 9 new bridges and tunnels.

The cumulative impact of planned roads on the natural and historic environment would be significant. Road building proposals would affect 4 National Parks (including the Norfolk Broads National Wetland), 7 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 39 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 3 National Nature Reserves, 54 Ancient Woods and 234 Local Wildlife Sites.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport said

“These plans pay no regard to places protected for their natural beauty, for conservation or for their historic importance. They ride roughshod over the green belt, and encourage sprawling development which undermines the economic vibrancy of our existing towns and cities.”

Amongst the roads are 42 schemes which revive plans originally proposed in the 1990s. During this period road building resulted in direct action campaigns including Twyford Down, Newbury and Fairmile.

Local opposition to the road proposals is expected to be strong. Local campaigns against a number of the proposals have already begun. The Campaign for Better Transport is organising a conference on 3 November to inform and support local campaigns (4)

Jenny Raggett of Campaign for Better Transport and Bristol and Bath Travel To Work Area said:

"One of the problems with major roads  is that local authorities just can't accept 'no'. The Westbury Eastern Bypass was turned down by the Planning Inspectorate and by the Secretary of State in 2009. They said the environmental disbenefits were too great, in particular the severe impact on the beautiful landscape near the Westbury White Horse. Wiltshire Council, rather than accepting the situation, decided in 2011 to safe-guard the very route of the failed bypass in their draft Core Strategy which runs until 2026. They did this not by a process of open consultation with the community, but via an obscure appendix of the document which lists the Westbury Bypass as a 'saved policy'. Local people were completely amazed when they found out. "

Mapping of the proposed schemes has revealed large regional disparities in road building plans. For example, 12 major road schemes are planned between Bristol, Bath and Weston-super-Mare. Meanwhile, Nottingham is investing in a 17km extension to the city’s tram network.

Stephen Joseph said

“There are some enlightened local authorities who realise there are better ways to do things. For instance, Nottingham is investing in two new lines for its tram network. By doing this, they are tackling congestion not through ever more roads but by a real alternative to using the car.”

Notes for editors

1. Going backwards: the new roads programme was published on 26 October by Campaign for Better Transport. Download it here (5MB pdf):http://bettertransport.org.uk/files/Roads_to_Nowhere_October2012_web_spreads_0.pdf


3. Summary of road building schemes


Region No. of road schemes Total distance  Overall cost


 East of England  32  322km  £10.7bn
 South East                     27  160km  £4.3bn
 South West 26 175km £3.6bn
 North West 28 160km £2.9bn
 West Midlands 18 84km £1.9bn
 East Midlands 22 116km £1.4bn
 Yorkshire & the Humber  17 81km £1.3bn
 London  3 10km £1.2bn
 North East 6 42km £860m
 Wales  11 94km £2.2bn
 Total 191 1244km £30.3bn

Further details of roads schemes, their locations and their impacts are available via an interactive map on the Campaignfor Better Transport website: http://bettertransport.org.uk/campaigns/roads-to-nowhere/map

4. The proposed roads were identified in current planning and investment documents produced by the Highways Agency, Department for Transport, local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. Where actual costs for proposed schemes have not yet been published, an estimate has been used. This is based on average costs per metre of schemes where costs are known. More details on methodology can be found in the final report.

5. Jenny Raggett represents the Campaign for Better Transport on the White Horse Alliance - a coalition of organisations campaigning to preserve the countryside around Westbury in Wiltshire and in the Wellhead Valley, which is at the foot of the Westbury White Horse Escarpment. It successfully defeated a proposal for a new road, the A350 Westbury Bypass when the Government rejected it in July 2009 after a public inquiry the previous year. Further details are available from the Alliance’s website. www.corridor-alliance.co.uk/