Creating a genuine national transport policy

Despite claiming to lead on the climate and nature emergencies, the Government wants to continue the “largest ever” road-building programme, as it boasted in 2020. As we warned in The Guardian recently this “Road-building spree will derail UK’s net zero targets”. It will also harm nature and local communities, while making things worse for drivers as congestion will continue to rise and potholes get bigger (the backlog in local road and bridge maintenance has risen to £20bn).

The New Transport Policy

The Government is finally consulting on a new national transport policy. It has road building at its core yet somehow the sustainability appraisal of the new draft finds the policy has no significant environmental impacts. It is a work of pure fiction. 

It’s therefore no surprise that the new policy is barely an improvement on the current pre-net zero version from 2014. This, like the new policy, green lights all new ‘strategic’ roads, however damaging. Once adopted, most likely later this year, the new transport policy will be hard to challenge.

Instead, we need something very different and much better! Something which delivers world class public transport and walking and cycling facilities, while addressing Levelling Up and climate change. This would be fairer, more inclusive and actually stand a chance of reducing congestion and making travelling more pleasant.  A new report by the TUC: Public transport for the climate emergency sets out some of that vision, describing the investment needed and the benefits it would bring

What is the national transport policy? 

The national transport policy is the document that sets out the Government’s position on large new road and rail projects and how these should be assessed in the planning system. The Government asserts that there is a ‘need’ for more roads despite its own figures showing that congestion will get worse with them. So its policy is never going to succeed, but will waste scarce resources in the process. There is only one way of reducing congestion on our roads and that is through managing demand and encouraging more people to walk, cycle and use public and shared transport. 

The national transport policy, although formulated by the Department for Transport (DfT), only applies to England because surface transport is largely a devolved responsibility in Scotland and Wales. These countries have their own policies and priorities, which are more progressive than in England.

If approved, the national transport policy will be in place for up to 10 years, so it is imperative that we seek to change it now, or we will be stuck with it for a long time.

Why it’s imperative you respond to the consultation 

Your voice matters

While at times it may not feel like it, there are ways to get your voice heard outside of General Elections. Responding to consultations isn’t the most interesting thing to do, but it is important that your voice is heard. Plus it needn’t take a long time – with this consultation we’ve drafted a letter which is quick and easy to edit (or to just send as it is). 

Climate Change

The Government’s proposed new national transport policy takes us in a very dangerous direction. With the IPCC publishing its starkest warnings to date, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.

The Government has admitted that its latest net zero plans will not deliver the cuts needed to meet the UK’s climate targets for 2030. This is its pledge made under the Paris Agreement. So claiming that it can carry on making things worse (in transport) is no longer credible. 

If the DfT is serious about meeting climate targets, there should be a policy presumption against road expansion, as in Wales. The emphasis should be on schemes that reduce carbon emissions by prioritising a switch from the car to public and shared transport, walking and cycling. 

Improving safety should be addressed through small scale changes and through low impact measures such as speed reduction. All schemes should avoid damage to ecologically sensitive sites. At present, safeguards are too easily overridden by the claimed ‘need’ for a new road.

Change can be good for us all

Switching from driving to travelling by public transport, walking and cycling – can be a good thing for everyone. Not only would it reduce congestion on the roads for people who need to drive, it would also lead to better health and safer streets for children and deliver on many other Government priorities.

Respond to the consultation today

Unless this disastrous policy is strongly challenged, the Government will continue to expand roads and trash our environment with impunity. It will also fail to deliver on many other promises, such as tackling air pollution and improving health. The current draft and its appalling appraisal need to be torn up.

That’s why we’re urging people to write to the DfT today to express their concerns and to ask them to start the process afresh.

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