Department’s addiction to road-building challenged

After much preparation, and with substantial public backing, our lawyers have started proceedings against the Department for Transport’s £27bn Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2).  Described by the Chancellor at its launch in March as England’s “largest ever” road-building programme, it breaches climate change and air quality laws.

The historic case, the biggest legal challenge to road-building in British history, comes as the Chancellor is considering an infrastructure boost in next month’s emergency budget. To date the Department has ignored the fact that building roads and increased traffic would scupper its chances of meeting binding climate change and air pollution targets. The Department is saying it will simply map out the action needed in wider plans, such as a Transport Decarbonisation Plan, though it has been making similar promises for years to little effect.


Air pollution has breached legal limits for over a decade while Greenhouse Gas Emissions from transport have barely changed since 1990. With 2020 set to be the hottest year on record, we cannot put off urgent action any longer. Even when all the evidence points to a need to change direction, the Department for Transport has been unable to kick its addiction to road-building. We believe that only a resounding defeat in the courts can shake it out of its stupor.

According to a DfT study of public attitudes towards transport before lockdown, “building more roads or even widening existing roads was generally not seen to be a viable long term solution” with people unwilling “to face the…disruption caused by work to widen roads” and believing “improvements would have little lasting impact on congestion anyway”.

With more people enjoying fresh air and wanting to ‘Build Back Better’, our challenge to road-building could not have been better timed. Hitting reset on the DfT’s roads plan will release billions to tackle the £16bn bridge and pothole backlog on local roads. And it will free up funding for alternatives to being stuck in traffic, whether cycleways for e-bikes or reopening railways. That’s far better for kick-starting the economy after the current crisis, while safeguarding our health and our environment.

The DfT is required to respond to our arguments within 21 days. Because of the case’s national significance, assuming the High Court grants permission, the legal challenge is expected to be heard by the autumn.

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance’s executive director, commenting on our challenge said:

“The government’s massive road building programme made no sense before COVID-19 and now it looks positively eccentric. The roads programme will stoke climate change and worsen air pollution, without cutting congestion. Let’s invest in broadband and sustainable transport instead, and redouble our efforts to cut carbon emissions and restore the natural world.”




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