Take action now or face 'climate gag' on new roads
What can governments do to create a sustainable, joined-up transport system with lower carbon emissions? Invest in railways, bus networks and cycling, use planning to reduce the need for journeys...?
Or spend billions on resurrecting unnecessary road schemes, and prevent climate change from being considered?
Last June the Treasury announced a £28 billion road-building spree. Many of these roads are 'zombie projects' previously rejected in the 1990s (see Campaign for Better Transport's map). A notable example is the Bexhill-Hastings link road, forced through despite being assessed as low value for money. In striking contrast, flood defences have been refused funding unless they are expected to prevent an average £8 damage for each £1 spent.
The Government has now published a draft National Policy Statement which contains a 'climate gag' clause which would stop campaigners halting these new roads on the grounds of climate change impact. It would also make it more difficult to block them to protect wildlife and landscapes.
The Campaign against Climate Change's chair, John Stewart, was in the front line of road protests in the 1990s, helping coordinate the massive public opposition that saw the majority of planned roads scrapped.
"It's twenty years since the iconic protests at Twyford Down. We're now seeing the impacts of climate change - a melting Arctic, more extreme weather events, and a steadily warming planet. Yet this government wants to take us back to the early 90s and the plans that failed then, resurrecting zombie road schemes that were shelved for good reason, and wasting billions of public money promoting car dependency. They even want to prevent climate change being mentioned in decision-making.
Public opposition put a stop to out of control road building last time - it's vital that the government hears a strong public voice in response to this consultation."
We need an overwhelming public response to tell the government they are travelling in the wrong direction. Please respond to the consultation. You can email NNNPSConsultation@dft.gsi.gov.uk (NNNPS = National Networks National Policy Statement Consultation - remember to include your full name and address!) or use the form on the Campaign for Better Transport's website. The deadline is 26 February.
Evidence for the 'national need' for a major road-building programme is weak. The plans for road expansion are based on a prediction of 40% more traffic by 2040. But traffic levels are now lower than they were ten years ago, and DfT forecasts have in the past massively over-estimated demand.
In contrast, the evidence for the impacts of climate change are ever stronger. Section 3.4, which prevents the impact of a new road on climate change from being considered during the planning process, must be removed. Section 3.4 states: "Increases in carbon emissions from a development should not therefore need to be considered by the Examining Authority and the Secretary of State." - a worrying 'climate gag'.
The billions planned in spending on new roads could be better spent on low-carbon infrastructure and sustainable transport. It is notable that plans to spend £1bn promoting active travel were quietly shelved last year, despite the potential environmental, health and social benefits.
The policy statement weakens protection for biodiversity, wildlife sites, habitats, ancient woods and landscapes (more detail in the Campaign for Better Transport model response). This protection should be restored.