Cut road spending and build back better

There are few opportunities to tell the Government how public funds should be spent, but this year with its Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) the Treasury has asked for our ideas. We’re encouraging people to tell them not to waste £27 billion and more on new roads. We want the Government to #buildbackbetter after the Covid pandemic, and to help transport decarbonise. So if you can, please tell the Government what you think before the 24 September.

We are in unprecedented times. A Conservative Government – traditionally the party of low taxation and spending – has racked up over £320 billion in debt in this financial year due to the Covid pandemic, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Meanwhile, Grant Shapps remains committed to his £27 billion ‘largest ever’ road building programme, published in a pre-lockdown era for the strategic roads network. Billions more are being lined up to be spent on new local roads.

The Lower Thames Crossing alone is estimated by Highways England to cost up to £8.2 billion, whilst the A303 Stonehenge scheme will cost at least £2 billion, leaving the World Heritage Site forever scarred. In contrast, the entire national budget for promoting active travel is just £2 billion. As well as costing the country billions of pounds, Highways England has said both these road schemes will increase carbon emissions by millions of tonnes from their construction and the increases in traffic they will cause. This is in an era when we need to dramatically and urgently reduce emissions. Paying billions of pounds to undermine our legal requirement to reach net-zero by 2050 just doesn’t make sense. 

This commitment to build more roads is on the questionable premise that road building cuts congestion which benefits the economy. Unfortunately, new roads create new traffic, rapidly counteracting any short-term benefits. The TUC, in its recent report on a recovery stimulus package, discounted road building as it scored poorly in terms of job creation. 

Meanwhile we know that investing in sustainable transport is good for the economy, the nation’s health and wellbeing, the climate and the environment. As the Government’s own Gear Change document, published in July states, physical inactivity costs the NHS nearly £1 billion every year with further indirect costs of £8.2 billion. So, moving people out of cars into more sustainable transport would save billions as well as helping tackle climate change.

This is a key opportunity for the Government to press the reset button on transport spending. The Treasury’s CSR consultation is very simple, with just one question for you to share your thoughts. We’ve produced some ideas which you can use but please write in your own words as the Treasury have said they will not accept duplicate responses. And remember to do this before 24 September.


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