New roads are an increasing threat, particularly as some of the worst have yet to be built. As we approach the end of the first Roads Investment Strategy with its £15 billion budget for the strategic roads network, Highways England has struggled to build as many new roads as it had hoped. Quite a few are now being held over to the next strategy period (2020 -2025) including highly damaging roads such as the A27 Arundel Bypass and the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road, both of which were the subject of legal challenges. The first would scar the South Downs National Park and destroy ancient woodland while the second would destroy Rimrose Valley Country Park, going right down the middle of it!
Then we have the near £2 billion Stonehenge tunnel, which UNESCO has criticised yet Highways England ploughs on regardless with its plans to dig up a vast swathe of the World Heritage Site. Elsewhere, it plans to splash £6 billion or more on a Lower Thames Crossing and is threatening the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with its plans for the A417 so called ‘Missing Link’. Here it chose the cheapest most damaging option despite the more expensive tunnel route having a better cost benefit ratio. The Peak District is also threatened as is a swathe of countryside between Oxford and Cambridge with a new expressway.
However, the harm doesn’t stop there. Many local authorities have been pursuing new roads with a vengeance, getting schemes that should never see the light of day back on the table. Others have used new housing developments to help deliver their pet road schemes, hoovering up much of the developer funding in the process leaving little over for community facilities, trees and other local amenities. It has led to a raft of new car based housing developments across the country where people have little choice but to drive, adding more pollution and congestion to our roads. That’s why we are working with Transport for New Homes to support local communities faced with large new car based housing developments. Yes we need more housing but we don’t need more cars and congestion. Much of the funding for these roads also comes from Local Enterprise Partnerships which see any form of development as supporting the local economy and therefore as good, regardless of whether it is desirable or not.
There have also been some recent changes which could see further threats as well as some possible opportunities. The Government has recently set up another category of road called the Major Roads Network for which it has set aside funding. This network is made up of A roads under local authority control (so not part of the Strategic Roads Network) but nevertheless which have some strategic or wider importance.
Alongside this is the growing influence of sub-national (regional) transport bodies. Many of them are currently bidding for statutory status and many are preparing to consult on draft transport strategies. These could be hugely influential in how transport evolves in the regions. Currently, these bodies are mostly dominated by local authorities so there can be a heavy emphasis on new roads. However, they do offer an opportunity to influence regional priorities and with the concerns around climate change could lead to a change in focus.
Finally, to end on a positive note. At the last local elections one of the unreported issues that influenced the outcome was the backlash against the massive amounts of development being forced onto local areas and the way that it was being done. This led to a number of authorities changing political control, with some administrations that had backed damaging new roads finding themselves out of power. The most notable was Herefordshire where the new administration has halted work on the controversial Hereford Bypass and Southern Link Road while it reviews what to do next. Encouragingly it is continuing with the sustainable transport elements of the packages. All this goes to prove that local politics can change things for the better, even if at times it feels like an uphill struggle!
Please get in touch if you need help or advice on how to tackle a damaging new road in your area. You might also usefully look at Campaign for Better Transport’s Roads Campaigner Guide which contains a lot of useful tips and information.