2023: What a year!
In years to come, 2023 will be remembered as the year of missed opportunities, when healthier travel choices were bypassed for more roads. With more people cycling and walking during the pandemic, this was the perfect time to lock in that improvement. Instead the Government opted to slash funding for walking and cycling to safeguard roadbuilding. Meanwhile, many large road schemes were delayed when axing them would have made more sense given their high cost and environmental impact.
In this first blog post, we look at some of the key moments in transport from the start of 2023. We will cover the rest of the year in two subsequent blogs.
Part 1: January to April 2023
The year began positively, with the start of the temporary £2 bus fare cap. This was a big boost for passengers, particularly in rural areas. Their bus fares tend to be higher and the savings bigger. However, it wasn’t much use to the many millions who no longer have regular bus services.
The positive news continued into February with the Harefield Bus Campaign Group successfully lobbying for better bus services in Hampshire. It resulted in a new service being introduced to replace one that was withdrawn. Local people were thrilled, with the new service running more frequently than the old one. We were pleased to have supported the campaign.
On Valentine’s day, the Welsh Government announced that it would only build new roads when they don’t increase traffic and make climate change worse. This was groundbreaking, and a world first. It was something we and many others, including the Climate Change Committee, strongly welcomed. In contrast, we are still waiting for a roads review in England.
In a busy month, it was pleasing to hear of more local campaign success, with Buses4U in Gloucestershire successfully fundraising to run its own bus services on what it calls the Daffodil Line.
We made the first of our two visits this year to give oral evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee. This was no mean achievement for an organisation of our size.
At the strategic road investment inquiry, we joined other experts in making a case for why England is in desperate need of a roads reset. As Lisa Hopkinson pointed out at the hearing, the fact that new roads generate traffic has been known for around 100 years but still it is ignored. This makes targets to reduce carbon emissions increasingly difficult to meet when the Government is obsessed with building more roads.
The Government finally started the consultation on a revised National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) which we forced them to concede to in 2021. This is the document that basically green lights road building and allows the Government to effectively ignore their carbon emissions. Getting to this stage took a lot longer than it should have. We first challenged the Secretary of State to review the 2014 policy more than three years ago! More than 600 people responded to the consultation using our template letter. Many thanks if you were one of those people..
Due to the incredible work of local campaigners, the Government announced it would delay many road schemes:
- Construction of the £10bn+ Lower Thames Crossing was delayed for two years, although the planning inquiry was allowed to carry on.
- The A27 Arundel Bypass and A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road through Rimrose Valley were both pushed back into RIS3 (2025-2030). This meant there would be no decision on them before the next General Election.
- Schemes being planned for RIS3, such as the A27 Chichester Bypass and A27 Lewes to Polegate, were put back to RIS4 (2030-2035).
This was good news but it could have been even better. Cancelling these expensive road schemes would have been the logical decision. The money could then have been used to improve public transport instead. Delaying the decisions means that many communities will be left in limbo for even longer.
The Spring budget brought the announcement of the temporary fuel duty cut becoming permanent. Not a huge surprise to most. What was more surprising was the announcement by Mark Harper to decimate the active travel budget.
The Government reduced Air Passenger Duty from 1 April for domestic flights. Meanwhile, rail fares rose again, making them even less competitive with flying. Sadly all of this was not an April Fool’s joke. Rather, just another indication of this Government’s shortsightedness.
In better news, the Government announced the scrapping of the remaining three Smart Motorway (SM) schemes in the current roads programme (RIS2), after already pausing others. Along with Smart Motorways Kill, we campaigned against these roads. Scrapping them will prevent avoidable deaths and save millions of tonnes of tonnes of carbon emissions from the increased traffic.
Campaigners against the Norwich Western Link through the Wensum Valley received a boost with national coverage in the Guardian. This set out the scheme’s impact on the habitat of the very rare Barbastelle bat.
On the A66 Northern Trans Pennine scheme, the Planning Inspectorate accepted all but two of the 24 changes to the planning application. These had been submitted by National Highways midway through the examination, perfectly illustrating how rushed and chaotic the application had been.
Over in Wales, Lee Waters, Deputy Climate Change Minister, held talks with campaigners regarding a Llanbedr bypass. This resulted in proposals for a raft of sustainable measures and a scaled down road to improve congestion and cut car use.
Coming together with other campaigners is always such a positive experience. We coordinated a roads event outside the Department for Transport as part of The Big One event, organised by Extinction Rebellion. Local roads campaigners from across Britain made passionate speeches about their schemes and their impact on climate change and biodiversity.
Part 2: The Summer of 2023
Look out for our review of the summer months next week.
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