Highways England wants to build a number of road schemes which would harm some of our finest countryside. National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), supposedly given the highest level of protection for natural and cultural heritage, are all under threat. Even one of the most iconic World Heritage Sites at Stonehenge is at risk, a decision on which is due by Friday (13 November).
Consultation on the latest threat, the first length of a dualled expressway across the Peak District National Park, started on Bonfire Night. This comes a short time after Highways England announced its preferred route for the Arundel bypass, which would draw more traffic both closer to and through the South Downs National Park. Then there are its plans for the A417 scarring the Cotswolds AONB. Here it previously ditched any tunnel options because of cost, even though at least one of the tunnels would have provided better value for money than its preferred route.
Another damaging proposal is the upgrade of the A66 across the North Pennines AONB from single to dual carriageway. The scheme is predicted to massively increase traffic, leading to a huge rise in carbon emissions and costing over £1 billion. Touted as a long-distance lorry route the focus here should be on moving freight to rail.
In the face of a climate and ecological emergency, and with transport the highest emitting sector for carbon emissions, Highways England continues to expand its trunk road network with indifference.
Although the A57 Link Roads Project, a dual carriageway bypass of Mottram with a link road to Glossop, lies outside the Peak District National Park, the plan is to expand the road through Longdendale to the M1 in South Yorkshire. Although a short tunnel is planned under the moors, in the west the expressway is likely to require a high viaduct visible for miles around.
If this were to happen, the route would become a bypass of the M62 motorway with huge numbers of vehicles diverting onto it, causing traffic to treble. A new major transport corridor slicing across the Peak District National Park is not what we should be planning on the eve of the Park’s 70th birthday.
However, saving a National Park, or any other landscape, should not be at the expense of local communities. They urgently need to be relieved of traffic impacts, as they were during the Covid-19 lockdown. However, these big road schemes just move the problem on.
The A57 Link Roads proposal aims to relieve Mottram of congestion but would only shift the traffic jam further east, leaving Hollingworth and Tintwistle (within the Peak District National Park) to endure even more traffic. Unsurprisingly local people are not happy. Clamour for a bypass of these villages will become politically irresistible, and fuel the laying of yet more tarmac, which will generate yet more traffic. And so the cycle goes on…
As the majority of the traffic is local, space should be taken from cars and given to walking, cycling, bus and coach and other services. Coupled with improved train services and restricting heavy lorries from crossing the Park, these measures offer the best solution. Throughout the Covid pandemic more people have been walking and cycling, and homeworking and flexi-working are likely to become the long-term norm. If only 20-30% of office based workers change their working habits, as currently indicated in surveys, there would be a substantial decrease in commuters using this route.
With the urgent need to tackle climate change, planning for yet more car journeys seems like a criminal offence and a huge waste of resources. Highways England should abandon this and its many other outdated 20th century road projects and give our green and pleasant land something to celebrate next year. After all, if national policy is to mean anything, these roads should only be going ahead in the most exceptional of circumstances, not to make it slightly easier to drive from one place to another.
Photo: Peak District