Heading down the wrong road

The Department for Transport (DfT) and National Highways are expected to publish initial details of its third roads programme, the third Road Investment Strategy (RIS3), for consultation early on 18 May. RIS3 sets road funding and schemes for building in England for 2025-2030, and is expected to be at least £25 billion.

As the leading critic of the roads programme, Transport Action Network [1] is available for comment.

Chris Todd, TAN’s director, said:

“With a new report this week revealing that the DfT’s own data shows radical traffic reduction is needed to meet climate targets, not a rehashing of existing road building plans. Carrying over major climate busting schemes from RIS2 to RIS3 like the Lower Thames Crossing, A303 Stonehenge, and the A66 Northern Trans Pennine shows it’s business as usual for the DfT, which continues to drag its feet on climate action. It’s like it’s reheating yesterday’s leftovers, rather than coming up with anything appetising.

“Instead we need a radical roads reset to give people and freight greener ways to travel. We need a strategy to reduce congestion, not make it worse by building more roads and increasing traffic.”

TAN has set out five tests for RIS3, against which it should be judged:

1. Does RIS3 support a 20% cut in motor traffic by 2030? 

Wales, Scotland and cities like London have all set traffic reduction targets, as expert evidence shows this is needed to meet climate targets, even with far faster uptake in EVs. By contrast, in the National Road Traffic Projections, the DfT asserts it cannot imagine anything but traffic increasing and that congestion could more than triple on some motorways.

2. Does RIS3 widen travel options?

While cuts to buses, trains and cycle funding have been in the news, National Highways Net Zero Highways plan fails to include any measures to deliver DfT priorities of modal shift or increasing car occupancy. Scotland and Northern Ireland are expanding bus lanes on motorways for example.

3. Does RIS3 credibly help levelling up?

Members of the House of Commons Transport Committee criticised RIS2 for focusing 80% of investment in southern England. But the Government’s levelling up missions include improving public transport, health and pride of place, not building ever bigger roads. RIS3 will need to be radically shrunk to free up funding for public transport. What remains should be focused on maintenance and supporting sustainable travel into towns and cities, such as bus lanes, safety improvements, maintenance and new crossings over busy roads.

4. Getting us there safely

National Highways says it is committed to zero people killed or seriously injured on its roads by 2040 but is focusing funding on a few big schemes which have little impact on the overall figures. By contrast, Wales has cancelled its roads programme, instead funding small scale safety improvements across the roads network, which can be done more quickly and cheaply.

5. Is there a credible plan to restore nature?

The National Audit Office recently highlighted the major impacts of infrastructure on environmental targets, while National Highways is set to miss its 2025 biodiversity target and is struggling to deliver environmental mitigation as temperatures rise. Only a decisive shift away from road-building destroying precious habitats and traffic reduction to reduce severance and mortality for declining species will be enough to meet the UK’s 2030 targets to restore nature.

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Note to Editors:

[1] Transport Action Network was established to support local communities press for more sustainable transport in England and Wales. This involves fighting cuts to bus services, particularly in rural areas, and opposing damaging road schemes and large unsustainable developments.


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