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The environment and the motorist hit by government transport economics

18 February 2008
The method [1] by which the government decides whether to give transport projects the go-ahead is bad for the environment and bad for the motorist, research published today has shown [2]. The research was published by two of the country’s leading environmental organisations, Green Alliance and Campaign for Better Transport [3].

The research – which comes at a time when the Department for Transport is reviewing how it evaluates potential transport projects [4] – found the department’s appraisal framework favours projects that:


  • Increase CO2 emissions, car use and motorists’ fuel bills while penalising projects that reduce fuel use
  • Do not properly consider non-road building alternatives to encourage walking and cycling
  • Is biased against projects that encourage car drivers to switch to public transport, because tickets are not subject to VAT and public transport pays lower fuel duty than cars 
  • Give higher value to time savings, even if savings are too small for motorists to notice

Stephen Joseph, the executive director of Campaign for Better Transport, says:
“The way the government looks at transport projects is flawed. The process doesn’t work for the environment and doesn’t help the motorist. The government needs to invest in projects that give people real choices in how they travel while reducing CO2, protecting landscapes and strengthening communities – but it is instead giving the green light to projects that do the exact opposite.”


Stephen Hale, director of Green Alliance adds: “A major rethink of UK transport policy is needed here and now to tackle rising emissions from the transport sector. Unlike her predecessors, Ruth Kelly does seem willing to make climate change a priority for the Department for Transport. But incredibly the department is still approving road schemes that increase emissions. That has to end now.

"We call on the government to move away from their obsession with cost benefit analysis, and establish carbon standards for new transport schemes. We need decisions today that create a low carbon infrastructure for the future.”

Notes for editors
[1] The Government assesses proposed transport schemes through a framework called NATA (New Approach to Appraisal). It is currently reviewing this process. A public consultation around the review closes 31 March. http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/archive/2008/consulnatarefresh/

[2] Please see our summary report, Getting Transport Right (368K pdf). The report is based on a bigger piece of research, ‘Planning for Sustainable Transport’, undertaken by Keith Buchan of MTRU, a leading transport planning consultancy. That research is available upon request.  

[3] Green Alliance, a registered charity, is an independent environmental think tank. We work with senior people in government, parliament, business and NGOs to put the environment - and environmental solutions - at the heart of UK policy and decision-making. Three aims govern our work: to make environment a central political issue; to integrate the environment into public policy and decision-making and to stimulate new thinking and advance the environmental agenda into new areas. For more information please see http://www.green-alliance.org.uk

Campaign for Better Transport works to secure transport policies and programmes that improve people’s quality of life whilst reducing environmental impact. 

[4] The goals in the Department for Transport’s Towards a Sustainable Transport System are “Maximising the overall competitiveness and productivity of the national economy, so as to achieve a sustained high level of GDP growth; Reducing transport’s emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, with the desired outcome of avoiding dangerous climate change; Contributing to better health and longer life-expectancy through reducing the risk of death, injury or illness arising from transport, and promoting travel modes that are beneficial to health; Improving quality of life for transport users and non-transport users, including through a healthy natural environment, with the desired outcome of improved well-being for all; Promoting greater equality of transport opportunity for all citizens, with the desired outcome of achieving a fairer society.”