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Government systems favour road building

11 January 2008
The Government’s appraisal and funding systems favour road building and make it very difficult for local councils to secure money for public transport and demand-management projects, according to new research published today. [1]

This report comes as the Government is reviewing the way it appraises transport projects. [2]

Buckinghamshire County Council and local branches of Friends of the Earth came together in a rare collaboration to jointly commission Steer Davies Gleave to investigate different options for improving transport besides through a planned road building project called ‘the A418 Improvements’ [3]. The report found that the alternatives – a mix of measures including good bus and train services, travel plans and small infrastructure projects – would be cheaper and better than road building. [4]

Stephen Joseph, executive director at Campaign for Better Transport, says the research contains many important lessons for national decision-makers. “The road scheme has been proposed to solve some real local problems associated with traffic but this report shows that it is not the best way to tackle those problems. The way in which the Government funds and evaluates transport projects means that the funding for the measures that will actually make a difference is hard to come by and justify. The Government must take notice of this research and reconsider its appraisal and funding systems.”

Valerie Letheren, portfolio holder for transportation at Buckinghamshire County Council, said the research will be useful – for the council and for central Government. “We have been pleased to pioneer something really new and innovative by working with local branches of Friends of the Earth to look at the various alternatives to road building. We intend to use the findings in the report to help us consider all options and make the best decision on reducing the problems experienced by local people that are caused by the high level of traffic on the A418, be this by progressing the road scheme, alternatives or a combination of both. This report also highlights to Government what changes are needed, particularly in its approach to funding, to help local authorities achieve the best available transport solutions for everyone.”


Notes to editors

[1] Alternatives to the A418 Improvements, prepared by Steer Davies Gleave. The report is available online: http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/system/files/A418_alternatives.pdf.

The report’s steering group consisted of Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport; Lynn Sloman, Transport for Quality of Life; Professor Peter Headicar, Reader in Transport, Oxford Brookes University; Anuradha Fitzwalter, Group Manager - Policy & Performance, Transportation, Buckinghamshire County Council; Victoria Harvey, South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth; John Kemplen, Team Leader, Transport Planning & Modelling, Buckinghamshire County Council; and Rachel Barnett, Aylesbury Vale Friends of the Earth.

Funding for the report came from Buckinghamshire County Council and South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth, supported by Friends of the Earth, Manuka Foundation, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Lush Cosmetics, Wing and Stewkely parish councils, individuals and the Campaign for Better Transport.

[2] See the website of the Department of Transport for more information: http://www.dft.gov.uk/ [updated March 2010: Consulation document]

[3] The ‘A418 improvements’ is a series of dual carriageways which would run between the A41 south of Aylesbury to join with the Stoke Hammond and Linslade western bypass to the southwest of Leighton Buzzard. This would create a dual carriageway link between Aylesbury and Milton Keynes and a new link between the M1 and the A41 into the west of London.

[4] Report findings in brief:

1. The alternative measures – three packages of measures were examined -- come out as much better than building the road – and the road option risks creating induced traffic


“It is easily seen that the three packages rank highest, followed by the attenuated road scheme, with the road scheme being outperformed by all other options, including “do minimum”. If these results are taken literally, this suggests it would be better to take no action than to build the road scheme. This is a very significant point and one that needs to be given further attention. As discussed in the scoping report, the development of the road scheme has been a process of problem amelioration such that the magnitude of undesired consequences of the scheme (such as traffic generation or carbon impacts) may not have been given the attention it deserved.” (Paragraph 5.10)



2. The alternatives provide better value for money than the roadbuildling option



“The key point here is, if the sums typically spent annually servicing the debt of a £150m road scheme could instead be spent on the long-term support of enhanced public transport and ongoing sustainable transport development (personal travel planning, promotion and marketing activities etc), truly revolutionary enhancements to local public transport networks and substantial travel behavioural changes could result. Evidence emerging from the Sustainable Travel and Cycle Demonstration Towns initiatives, coupled with the well established modal shift potential of revenue enhancements to existing bus networks, indicate that such alternative interventions could potentially offer significantly more cost-effective solutions to transport problems. (Paragraph 6.7)



3. The proposed A418 Improvements wouldn’t necessarily help the economy



"The salient finding of this work is that the road scheme is not necessary to the economic well-being of the town: there may be a need for better road links to facilitate the higher levels of commuting: the justification for this is overwhelmingly on traffic grounds and not because it is needed to enable Aylesbury to develop.” (Paragraph 3.26)



4. The present appraisal system for transport schemes is inadequate because it does not deal with the wider picture of health and social impacts of a transport schemes



“The set of impacts typically captured by appraisal cannot be claimed to be complete. It is informed by past practice and what is easiest to measure. Omissions from the framework are just one way in which an appraisal method can inject “unseen” bias into proceedings, with the result that a seemingly neutral appraisal process intrinsically favours one type of intervention over another.“ (Paragraph B1.23)