Growth Plan under threat from road legal challenges?

Transport Action Network (TAN) [1] has lodged a legal challenge at the High Court [2] of the Government’s decision to approve the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet ‘improvement’ [3] part of the cancelled Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. It follows a number of previous challenges to schemes in the Government’s roads programme (RIS2) [4]. The £1bn road is listed in the Government’s Growth Plan for accelerated delivery [5], yet is one of the highest carbon emitting schemes in RIS2 [6]. Additionally, with spiralling construction costs, the economic case for the road looks weak [7] and its inclusion in the Growth Plan appears odd. TAN’s legal case focuses on the failure to assess climate impacts at a regional or local level [8]. It is also challenging the need for the road and the failure to implement existing environmental policy, which will see the significant loss of hedgerow habitat [9]. This comes before any reform of environmental protections and judicial review that is being suggested as part of the Government’s Growth Plan [10]. Chris Todd, Director of Transport Action Network said:

“Building new roads is an inefficient way of growing the economy, while causing untold environmental damage. It diverts scarce public funds away from more effective measures, so could actually slow down growth.

“The A428 is one of the biggest climate busting schemes in the Government’s roads programme. Yet the impact on regional and local carbon targets has been completely ignored. Similarly, before Liz Truss’s Government has reformed environmental protections we are seeing existing policy sidelined. It would seem that the attack on nature has already started.”

“The scheme represents a trebling of road capacity for much of its length, an expansion that is totally unwarranted. It will increase traffic on the surrounding road network, undermining the economy while driving up emissions. Given that we need to ‘use our cars less’, it’s madness to be building new roads that increase traffic.”

A crowdfunder [11] has been set up to challenge the Government’s decision to approve the A428.

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors:

[1] Transport Action Network is the only national environmental organisation that is actively challenging damaging new roads on climate grounds. Despite its small size, the organisation made the headlines when it previously took legal action against the Government’s road programme (RIS2), and successfully forced the Government to review its national roads policy.

[2] Transport Action Network filed their claim with the High Court on 29 September, 2022 and are awaiting permission to proceed. TAN took part in the scheme Examination which ran from 18 August 2021 to 18 February 2022. The decision to approve the scheme was taken by Grant Shapps on 18 August 2022, with modifications.

[3] The road is a new 10 mile dual carriageway in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, between the Black Cat and Caxton Gibbet roundabouts, which will run close to the old A428. It represents a trebling of road capacity for much of its length, an expansion that is totally unwarranted given the need to reduce traffic to meet climate change targets and the regional target to reduce car traffic by 2030. National Highways submitted its application for development consent for the A428 scheme on 26 February 2021.

[4] This legal challenge is now the fourth against Government approval for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) road schemes in RIS2. The approval for the A303 Stonehenge scheme was successfully challenged in the High Court, whilst the Government backed down on a challenge to approve the A38 Derby Junctions scheme. There are currently two outstanding legal challenges to two A47 schemes in Norfolk which have yet to be heard.

[5] See Annex B, of The Growth Plan, published in September 2022

[6] National Highways’ figures submitted to the examination for the A428 scheme, reveal that the total additional carbon emissions from the extra traffic and its construction totalled over 3.5 million tonnes. This makes the scheme the third largest emitting of the 50 schemes in the RIS2 roads programme.

[7] An updated Economic Sensitivity Test in January 2022 showed the latest Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) would be 1.52, which only just ranks as “Medium” in the DfT’s value for money framework, and would only deliver marginal economic benefits. However, this did not include a reassessment of the construction costs which are likely to be much higher than originally forecast. See Table 7-1, Economic Sensitivity Test (November 2021 TAG Update) – January 2022.

[8] The regional targets, set by England’s Economic Heartland, the sub-National Transport Body for the region, are to reach net-zero by 2040 and for a 5% cut in car traffic by 2030 and are tighter than any national ambition.

[9] The road scheme will lead to a significant loss of valuable hedgerow habitat. While National Highways are likely to replace the lost habitat with a greater length of new hedgerow, its biodiversity value will be low and overall represents a significant loss. In addition, a number of species which rely on hedgerows will be impacted upon, such as Badgers, Barn Owls, Hobbies, and Skylarks.

[10] The Growth Plan was published in September 2022. Paragraph 3.36, page 21 in particular states: The Growth Plan announces that new legislation will be brought forward in the coming months to address these barriers by reducing unnecessary burdens to speed up the delivery of much-needed infrastructure. This includes: • reducing the burden of environmental assessments • reducing bureaucracy in the consultation process • reforming habitats and species regulations • increasing flexibility to make changes to a DCO once it has been submitted.

[11] The crowdfunder on CrowdJustice goes live at 6pm on Friday, 30 September, 2022


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