Heading in the right direction?

England’s Economic Heartland is consulting on its draft Transport Strategy until midnight on Tuesday, 6th October. Once approved it will set the framework for future transport policies and investment in the area for the next 30 years. The region which lies to the west and north of London, stretching from Swindon in the west, to Cambridge and Peterborough in the east, is one of the most economically successful areas in the UK.

The draft Strategy makes some good statements about sustainable transport and reducing reliance on the private car. It emphasises the use of digital technology to improve connectivity, particularly in rural areas, to reduce the need to travel.

It acknowledges that the status quo is not sustainable and that electric vehicles won’t solve congestion. It highlights the need for better integration with planning and the need to meet net-zero obligations by 2050.

But then it gets stuck on hangovers from the past. Despite the warm words and clear ambition, its dependence on continued road building is its Achilles heel. The expansion of the road network will increase traffic, increase congestion and increase carbon emissions which will further deter active travel and undermine public transport.

For sure it’s not all about road building, but the plans for rail upgrades seem more vague than those for new roads and in the current environment may be harder to deliver.  There’s also the fear that the proposed corridor studies will just revert back to type and promote new roads rather than finding genuinely multi-modal and sustainable solutions.

Despite having produced a number of carbon pathways to net-zero, no analysis has been done to show how these different pathways actually keep within a carbon budget. The modelling may also be inaccurate as many of the scenarios include plug in hybrids, yet recent research shows these cars can emit around 2.5 times the emissions found in official fuel test figures. It’s also claimed that the various scenarios reduce road traffic yet a closer analysis shows that all increase road traffic over today’s levels (Figure 6, p22, Pathways to decarbonisation).

These issues make it even more important for people to respond to the consultation which ends on 6th October. We need to welcome the ambition and drive for change, but challenge where the strategy seems stuck in the past, which will cause it to fail on climate and other grounds. It’s worth noting that the UK Climate Assembly recently recommended a moratorium on road building until the mid-2040s and for a 6 – 15% reduction in traffic by 2050 on today’s levels.

For those thinking of responding, our headline thoughts are as follows:

Welcome / support:

  • The commitment to achieve net-zero by 2050
  • The focus on sustainable and active travel and reducing reliance on the private car
  • The recognition that we can’t carry on as at present and that Covid has presented us with an opportunity to do things differently
  • The road user hierarchy (which places pedestrians first) but it needs to influence project designs and priorities if it is to effect change
  • The recognition of the need to integrate transport and land use planning
  • The emphasis on digital connectivity to reduce the need to travel

Concerned that / object to:

  • There is no defined carbon budget to guide investment decisions, without which it will be difficult to assess the strategy’s performance (or steer it away from high-carbon infrastructure such as new roads)
  • The substantial road building element retained within the strategy – there should be no road expansion except for bus priority measures
  • The projected increase in road traffic of between 33 – 56%
  • The target to reduce single occupancy car journeys will be difficult to measure and could still see an increase in traffic – it would be better to have a road traffic reduction target
  • The Integrated Sustainability Appraisal is seriously flawed with dubious assertions and missing impacts

To respond to the consultation you can use the online survey or you can email your thoughts to: engagement@englandseconomicheartland.com


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