Time to cull ‘sacred cow’ road schemes

The new government, with its desire to increase infrastructure spending whilst needing to impress new Conservative voters in the north and midlands, has the opportunity to cull some bloated vanity projects.  Boris Johnson has reportedly instructed his Cabinet to cull large ‘legacy projects’ and told them that everything is on the table, including ‘sacred cows’ and ‘pet projects’.  We have a number of damaging, costly and unpopular road schemes that Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Sajid Javid and Andrew Gilligan (Mr Johnson’s transport adviser) could cast their eye over and save billions of pounds.

The A303 Stonehenge tunnel (2) is the obvious candidate, with a nearly £2 billion price tag.  The scheme is opposed by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and has an unusually low benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of just 21 pence benefit per £1 spent.  Only if you include the highly implausible cultural heritage valuation study, does the BCR creep over the £1 mark to £1.08.  Since costs are bound to rise given the difficulties of tunnelling in Phosphatic Chalk, it is likely to cost far more than any benefits it might produce.

Another popular candidate for the potential chop is the Oxford Cambridge Expressway, estimated to cost at least £3.5bn. This scheme is also opposed by the Conservative led Oxfordshire County Council who will not be sorry to see the back of it.

More savings could be made by putting the £6.8 billion Lower Thames Crossing out of its misery. Scrapping smaller but highly damaging schemes such as the A27 Arundel Bypass (going through the South Downs National Park and ancient woodland) and the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road (which cuts through the entire length of Rimrose Valley Country Park) would bring environmental as well as Exchequer wins.

Boris Johnson would also be helping to meet the Conservative manifesto commitment of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Nearly all road schemes induce road traffic growth and emissions and the focus on road building and a fuel duty freeze are the two main reasons why surface transport emissions have risen since 1990.  Transport is the largest contributor to carbon emissions in the UK, yet to date there has been a complete denial of responsibility within the Department of Transport for creating this situation.  Perhaps Mr Johnson can surprise us all and shake the DfT out of its complacent state, make a major step towards addressing climate change, whilst saving billions of pounds in the process.


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