Taking the wrong road for climate change

With another stark reminder this summer of how quickly the climate is changing, as heat waves and drought hit Europe again and with devastating floods in Pakistan, you would expect that future plans would prioritise reducing emissions fast. In an emergency, you need radical action, not more of the same with a few tweaks.

Transport for the South East (TfSE) recently published its draft Strategic Investment Plan (SIP), which sets out the transport spending it would like to see in the South East over the next 30 years. Scratch beneath the surface and you find a plan that will fuel climate change, while pretending to do otherwise.

It contains aspirations for over 90 road schemes, 51 of which TfSE wants built before 2030, despite acknowledging that a key issue is:

“Ensuring highway projects are not delivered before enhanced mass transit and electric vehicle charging networks are in place to avoid inducing additional private car ownership and or use of carbon-intensive vehicles”

Yet, its own phasing of projects immediately undermines this. At best, some mass transit might be delivered alongside new roads, but with the majority of public transport improvements not scheduled until after 2030, this aspiration is already fatally compromised. Indeed, there is a real risk that we will end up with most of the roads and few of the public transport improvements. TfSE claims many of these road schemes are committed and there is little it can do about them. This is clearly untrue when it says that pipeline schemes for the next Roads Investment Strategy (RIS3), which is far from decided, are agreed.

Another tack it tries is that new roads are for all road users. Yet, increasing road capacity for private cars, even with some new cycle and bus facilities, will fuel traffic growth and increase carbon emissions. The minor benefits realised for active travel and public transport along a particular road will be wiped out by the extra traffic and congestion created on the wider network.

On active travel, TfSE recognises that active travel is a strategic priority, but then fails to take this much further. Its strategy is to leave it up to Local Highway Authorities (LHAs), boldly claiming that “…Local Transport Authorities… have ambitious plans to improve cycling and walking in their areas…”.

Yet, as people in the region know only too well, many LHAs, especially many of the counties, have been woeful in building high quality walking and cycling infrastructure. TfSE’s confidence that all LHAs are capable of delivering on the scale and speed required seems somewhat misplaced. Especially when many are using scarce resources (staff and money) promoting new roads.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine the true impacts of the draft SIP from the information provided. TfSE claims there will be fewer car journeys in 2050, but people are probably not aware that it is calculating the changes against a future (fictional) scenario where there has already been significant traffic growth. This makes it impossible to properly understand the true impact of the draft SIP. However, based on TfSE’s Transport Strategy, it’s likely that traffic will be worse than today. Our concern is that people might be fooled into supporting the draft SIP thinking it was going to improve things.

It’s equally misleading on carbon emissions. TfSE compares the draft plan’s projected emissions with an unrealistic future ‘Do Nothing’ scenario (which assumes a reversal of Government policy on electric vehicles). This helps hide the fact that the draft SIP will likely make things worse, rather than better. However, even with this trick, TfSE has to acknowledge that its draft SIP will not decarbonise the transport sector quickly enough.

Yet, instead of adjusting its plan, for example by reducing the number of new roads being built, it loads more expectation onto global issues, such as road pricing and faster vehicle electrification, over which it has very little control. Those areas where it does have some control, it fails to set out how it will fast-track actions to deliver these additional savings, or address the risks involved. Consequently, there is every likelihood that the draft SIP will increase traffic and carbon emissions. While the Sustainability Appraisal does raise some of these concerns, it fails to flag the substantial risk and contradiction at the heart of the plan.

Overall, the draft plan is not fit for purpose, is misleading in the outcomes it will deliver, fails on demand management and ignores the risks to delivery of its most essential elements, the active travel and public transport improvements.  Ultimately it will undermine choice, fail to tackle inequality and will undermine the economy.

The consultation on the draft SIP ends on 12th September, so it isn’t too late to have your say. See our Take Action page for details. We have also set up an action to make it easy for people to respond, but please edit the text of the letter to put it in your own words. We have also submitted a formal response.


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