New roads are an increasing threat
During the first Roads Investment Strategy (RIS1) with its £15 billion budget for the strategic roads network, Highways England struggled to build as many new roads as it had hoped. Many of the schemes have been moved into the second (current) strategy period (2020-2025) (RIS2) including highly damaging roads such as the A27 Arundel Bypass and the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road, both of which were the subject of legal challenges. The first would impact on the setting of the South Downs National Park and destroy ancient woodland while the second would destroy Rimrose Valley Country Park, going right down the middle of it!
Then we have the near £2 billion Stonehenge tunnel, which UNESCO has criticised and is currently being challenged in the courts after Transport Secretary approved the scheme against the advice of the Planning Inspectorate. Elsewhere, Highways England plans to splash £8 billion or more on a Lower Thames Crossing and is threatening the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with its plans for the A417 so called 'Missing Link'. Here it chose the cheapest most damaging option despite the more expensive tunnel route proving more economic benefits. The Peak District is also threatened as is a swathe of countryside between Oxford and Cambridge with a new expressway despite claims that the expressway is dead. In London we've published a report on the impact of the proposed Silvertown Tunnel and how it will undermine the mayor's ambition for a 2030 carbon neutral city.
However, the harm doesn't stop there. Many local authorities have been pursuing new roads with a vengeance, even when they've declared a climate emergency. Others have used new housing developments to help deliver their pet road schemes, hoovering up much of the developer funding in the process leaving little over for community facilities, trees and other local amenities. It has led to a raft of new car based housing developments across the country where people have little choice but to drive, adding more pollution and congestion to our roads. That's why we are working with Transport for New Homes to support local communities faced with large new car based housing developments. Much of the funding for these roads also comes from Local Enterprise Partnerships which see any form of development as supporting the local economy and therefore as good, regardless of whether it could be done better or in a different way.
Alongside this is the growing influence of sub-national (regional) transport bodies. Many of them are preparing or have approved transport strategies, some of them much more radical and ambitious than central government. Currently, these bodies are mostly dominated by local authorities so there can still be a heavy emphasis on new roads, despite some good aspects to their plans.
Finally, to end on a positive note. At the last local elections one of the unreported issues that influenced the outcome was the backlash against the massive amounts of development being forced onto local areas and the way that it was being done. This led to a number of authorities changing political control, with some administrations that had backed damaging new roads finding themselves out of power. The most notable was Herefordshire where the new administration has now scrapped the southern link road and western bypass. All this goes to prove that local politics can change things for the better, even if at times it feels like an uphill struggle!
Please get in touch if you need help or advice on how to tackle a damaging new road in your area. You might also usefully look at Campaign for Better Transport's Roads Campaigner Guide which contains a lot of useful tips and information.