Unaffordable road building sanctioned while councils cut bus and other essential services

Transport for the South East (TfSE) [1] yesterday agreed to proceed with its Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) [2] despite concerns about its affordability [3] and climate impacts [4]. Most of the discussion focussed on ‘telling a better story’ rather than any consideration that the Plan’s priorities might be wrong. Indeed, there was no debate about the Plan threatening the UK’s international commitment to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030 [5], by which time TfSE wants to see over 50 new roads built [6].

This decision comes halfway through COP27, where the UN Secretary General declared last week that: “we are on the highway to climate hell with the foot on the accelerator” [7].

The roads focus of the Plan is epitomised by the way it talks about motoring taxation and the amount spent on road building, while failing to mention the huge costs that road use places on society [8]. Yet it is the prioritisation of new roads that threatens not just climate targets but also Levelling Up and helping people with the cost-of-living crisis. Any highway interventions need to focus on making improvements for public transport and active travel, not increasing expensive road capacity (as currently planned) that drives up traffic and emissions.

Chris Todd, Director of Transport Action Network [9], said:

“This Plan is just a Trojan horse for more road building and climate damage. It comes at a critical time when we need to be rapidly cutting emissions and encouraging massive behaviour change. Yet the SIP will lock in greater car use and expense, even if it does eventually result in slight improvements for public transport and active travel.

“Unfortunately, most Board members failed to engage with the concerns raised in the consultation. The Board’s response was effectively that the public don’t understand, we need to improve our messaging. It suggests a certain arrogance and highlights how broken the process is. It is hugely insulting to the public.

“What’s so bad about this process is that TfSE has hidden the true climate impact of the SIP [10]. It is still pretending that the SIP is part of a pathway to net-zero, when the reality is it will make things worse. This has skewed the debate and is the excuse TfSE uses for not making any changes. This is outrageous in the middle of a climate emergency and is exactly why we are failing to reduce emissions quickly enough in the UK, particularly from transport.

“We hope that local councillors will now give this Plan the scrutiny and challenge that has been sadly lacking to date. Without change, the Plan will place us on the path to climate chaos with increasing extreme weather events and ever increasing costs to maintain critical infrastructure.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

[1] Transport for the South East (TfSE) is a shadow sub-national transport body covering the county areas of Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex, Hampshire and Isle of Wight and Berkshire.

[2] TfSE’s Board met virtually at 1pm on Monday, 14th November to agree to forward the SIP to its member authorities for their individual approval. The meeting can be viewed on YouTube.

[3] Hampshire and Kent County Councils have written to Rishi Sunak to highlight that they will be forced to declare bankruptcy in the next few months unless things change and that local services are under threat.

[4] The consultation on the draft SIP ran from 20 June 2022 until 12 September 2022. It received 639 responses, 422 responding to the survey, 88 submitted individual letters or emails and 131 emailed from TAN’s action where they were able to personalise their response. 76% of respondents to the survey stated ‘Decarbonisation & Environment’ is the most important investment priority for the Strategic Investment Plan (see page 25 of the Board Papers). There was strong support for action on reducing fares, active travel and concern about the amount of road building.

[5] In December 2020, the UK Government agreed its Nationally Determined Contribution to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. (This requires greater cuts than suggested by the 5th carbon budget which was agreed prior to net-zero becoming the UK’s target). It was pledged ahead of COP26 to show international leadership. It was never discussed at the Board meeting, despite the threat the Plan poses to it.

[6] The draft SIP proposed over 90 road schemes, including over 50 to be built before 2030. (7 schemes have started construction, although one is currently paused). In contrast, the vast majority of public transport interventions are not scheduled until after 2030, with funding uncertain. The reality is that while most of the roads will get built, there will be few significant public transport improvements. See TAN’s response to the consultation for more detail. During the discussion, Rupert Clubb said he did not recognise the 50 road schemes by 2030, yet these can be seen in the draft SIP, Table A.1, page 128 (33 road schemes) and Table A.3, page 131 (18 road schemes) all with a short implementation timeframe, i.e. before 2030.

[7] See UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ opening speech to COP27 on Monday 7 November: at approximately 1 minute, 30 seconds.

[8] Wider costs from motor vehicle use include: air and noise pollution, severance, impacts on nature, including habitat damage and severance and roadkill, costs to emergency services of crashes, costs to the NHS and society from injuries, death and encouraging less active lifestyles, damage to buildings, etc.

[9] Transport Action Network was established to support local communities press for more sustainable transport in England and Wales. This involves fighting cuts to bus services, particularly in rural areas, and opposing damaging road schemes and large unsustainable developments.

[10] Carbon emissions are presented in a way that hides the fact that SIP is making things worse. TfSE has selected a baseline Business as Usual (BAU) scenario which deviates from standard practice as it is NOT based on current policies and behaviours continuing into the future. Instead, TfSE’s ‘BAU’ is calculated on the fictitious scenario that the Government will reverse its ban on petrol and diesel car sales (p20, TfSE’s Transport Decarbonisation Thematic Plan). This is highly misleading.

Photo: Derrick Coffee


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