The beginning of 2024 is set to crystallise a number of high profile and controversial issues relating to major national road projects and the general policy approach to scheme justification and expenditure.
Legal actions are underway in two cases that could define broader policy with Dr Andrew Boswell taking his case about the carbon impact of road schemes in Norfolk to the Court of Appeal, while the campaign group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) is awaiting a judgement on their case relating to the A303 Stonehenge project.
A high profile decision is also due on the Development Consent Order for the £10bn Lower Thames Crossing, which completed its examination just before Christmas, with the inspectors’ recommendations report to go to the secretary of state by 20 March and the Secretary of State then having a further three months to consider and make a decision.
In the Norfolk court case, Boswell, formerly a Green Party county councillor from 2005 until 2017, has brought the appeal after his challenge over dualling on the A47 was dismissed in the High Court last July. The case concerns the dualling of the A47 between Blofield and North Burlingham, the first of four road schemes Boswell is objecting to close to Norwich.
Boswell said his appeal challenges the Government’s “unlawful approach” of allowing large road schemes to go ahead without cumulative assessment of carbon emissions. “A win could help ensure proper climate impact assessment for proposed highway schemes around the UK,” he said.
Regarding the A303 Stonehenge case, the SSWHS group is associated with the Stonehenge Alliance, which has been campaigning for around 20 years to protect the World Heritage Site.
The Government’s approval was at odds with UNESCO’s opposition, and the recommendation for refusal of the scheme by five of the Government’s independent planning inspectors, argues SSWHS.
Other High Court decisions are awaited on challenges to the A57 in the Peak District and the A38 in Derby.
Meanwhile, government decisions are expected within the next two months on the controversial new National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) on transport, and planning guidance on the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP), both of which will set the ground rules for major schemes being promoted by National Highways.
The formal adoptions of the NNNPS and NSIP policies will be crucial to the decision making on road schemes over the next few years with the Government having sought to smooth the path of major projects after considerable legal battles in recent years.
The Transport Select Committee examined the NNNPS last year and called on the Government to revise the draft in a formal report, which was sent in October, with the Government response now overdue.
The Government’s broad position on pushing ahead with infrastructure was set out most recently in its response to the National Infrastructure Commission in the autumn. It said it plans to update the national infrastructure planning guidance by this spring.
Also, the Government will soon publish its draft, third Road Investment Strategy (RIS3), which will set out the strategy and spending plans for the Strategic Road Network, managed by National Highways, from 2025- 2030. The draft RIS3 will include a statement of funds available, giving an indication of whether funding will be prioritised towards maintenance and renewal or building new roads.
Rebecca Lush, Roads and Climate Campaigner at Transport Action Network, told LTT: “We are waiting to see if the draft RIS3 funding will match the rhetoric about prioritising maintenance of the existing network over building new roads. If the Government decide to press on with mega projects like the £10 billion Lower Thames Crossing and the £2.5 billion A303 Stonehenge, this will swallow up most of the available funds, leaving little to tackle crucial maintenance and environmental improvements to the existing network.”
Laura Blake, chair of the Thames Crossing Action Group, told LTT: “It was quite apparent during the LTC DCO Examination that there are still a lot of major unresolved issues with the proposed LTC, not to mention the fact that the estimated cost is out of date and likely to rise considerably, if the project goes ahead. It would be more expensive per mile than the highly controversial HS2.
“There was certainly a level of concern about the proposed project and the adverse impacts it would have throughout the region on both sides of the river, including from those who in principal support the project.
“We believe there is plenty of evidence as to why this hugely destructive and harmful project should not go ahead. It would not solve the problems suffered due to the Dartford Crossing, and there are better, more affordable, and more sustainable alternatives.”
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