The Summer of 2023
We look back at the summer of 2023 in this second of our three part review of the year. Missed part one? You can read about what happened in the first four months of 2023 here.
Part 2: May to August 2023
The Road Investment Strategy (RIS3) consultation began this month. Just like with the National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) consultation in March, it was long overdue. The Government admitted we were way off track to meet our 2030 climate target but were still claiming that expanding road capacity is compatible with net zero. Hundreds of people responded to the consultation and joined us in calling for the Department for Transport to focus RIS3 money on public transport, active travel, safety and maintenance.
Professor Greg Marsden published a report highlighting how the Government appeared to have abandoned many of its aspirations in its Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), published less than two years ago. Yet it is this plan that the Government relies on to say it can ‘afford’ to increase emissions from road building (as other measures in the TDP will more than compensate for this, so the argument goes)
Alongside all of this, the Government faced a plethora of legal challenges. Unfortunately, our legal challenge against the A428 road scheme was refused permission, in part because the Government had withheld important information linked to the TDP. Meanwhile Dr Andrew Boswell’s three legal challenges on three A47 schemes were heard at the High Court.
As the UK’s independent adviser on tackling climate change, what the Climate Change Committee (CCC) says is of huge importance. Their latest annual progress report called on the Government to review its roads programme, stating: only road schemes “meaningfully support[ing] cost-effective delivery of Net Zero” should proceed.
It was a particularly busy month for us. For the second time in 2023, we gave evidence to a House of Commons Transport Committee’s inquiry. This time it was about the Government’s revised roads policy (NNNPS). Plus, we launched a legal challenge over the cuts to active travel funding in England. Our crowdfunding campaign to pay for the costs got off to a flying start. We raised more than £15,000 in just four days! Not an easy feat for such a small organisation. We are hugely grateful for the continued support this campaign has received.
The 6 month examination into the £10bn Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) finally got underway. This is the biggest road scheme for a generation and highlights everything that is wrong with the Government’s current approach to transport.
There were lots of ups and downs this month.
Three by-elections dominated the news with the results having significant repercussions for transport policy. The expansion of ULEZ into London’s outer boroughs was used as the excuse by Labour for not winning the Uxbridge by-election. While the Conservatives thought they’d found a winning election strategy in supporting the motorist.
However, this didn’t work in Somerset and Frome where they lost despite giving approval for the A303 Stonehenge scheme just six days before the vote. For campaigners there was a sense of déjà vu as the road scheme was initially approved in 2020 by Grant Shapps. His decision was then overturned by the High Court a year later.
Rishi Sunak then decided that he was ‘on the side of motorists’ and ordered a review of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and questioned 20mph limits, along with other progressive transport initiatives. ‘On the side of motorists’ is a nice catchphrase but all it does is attempt to divide the population. Being a motorist does not exclude a person from also being a pedestrian, a bus user, or even a cyclist.
There was disappointment when Dr Andrew Boswell’s three A47 legal challenges were dismissed. However, he quickly launched an appeal.
Oxfordshire County Councillors voted 7-2 NOT to approve their own planning application for a controversial road linked to new housing in south Oxfordshire. This surprising decision was a huge cause for celebration. According to Chris Church from Oxford Friends of the Earth, this £300m road would “generate 510,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in its construction”. Sadly celebrations had to be curtailed a few days later when Michael Gove called in the decision. This means there will be a review by a Government appointed inspector and the Secretary of State will take the final decision on whether to approve the application.
Public consultations on closing rail ticket offices, programmed to last for 21 days, started. However, after a huge outcry they were eventually extended to 1st September.
The first of five Low Traffic Future regional events was held. Low Traffic Future is an alliance initiated by us in 2022. It aims to shift the conversation around transport and promote the benefits of having less motor traffic (cars, vans and HGVs). The events guided people through Local Transport Plans and how to campaign on them. One attendee described it as ‘almost therapy.’
The House of Commons Transport Committee published a highly critical report of the Government’s strategic roads investment. It followed the inquiry held in March where they heard from a broad range of witnesses, including us.
A number of recommendations were included in the report:
- Focus on maintenance and renewal rather than new roads
- Consider scrapping some large and complex schemes to help pay for better maintenance
- Model traffic reduction and stable traffic scenarios (not just growth)
- Change National Highways’ licence to require better coordination with sub-National Transport Bodies
The committee’s report also called for a debate on whether there should be a target to reduce car use. It said that the Department for Transport’s strategy of relying on electrification was high risk. It also acknowledged that there might be more effective interventions for boosting the economy than road building.
It was announced that rail fares in England will rise by less than inflation (9% at the time) in 2024. There was some good news with the first new train station in Bristol for almost a century formally opening. Perhaps the most shocking thing to happen in the month was Rishi Sunak travelled by train instead of his trusted helicopter!
Sadiq Khan oversaw the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of London. It was good to see a politician not succumb to pressure and do a last minute u-turn.
The rain could not stop a fantastic turnout for the Save Rimrose Valley demo. They are opposing National Highways’s plans for a dual carriageway through the middle of a country park in Liverpool.
In yet another moment of déjà vu, the A38 expansion scheme was given planning approval again. In 2021, a legal challenge led to Grant Shapps conceding that the decision to approve the A38 expansion was “unlawful” as he hadn’t properly considered climate change, and the decision was quashed. Local residents have launched another legal challenge to stop this road scheme from going ahead again.
A legal challenge was also launched to challenge the Government’s decision to approve the highly damaging road through Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
Part 3: Winter is Coming
Look out for part 3 of our review blogs next week.
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Photo credit: Save Rimrose Valley
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