Dishonest Justifications for Road Building Programme

25th November 2020

A1M in North Yorkshire

'Dishonest' is a strong word, but it's an accurate description of the government's justifications for its road-building programme.

The DfT is developing a plan to decarbonise transport, and is spending £5bn on active travel and buses over five years. At the same time, it is spending £27.4bn on new strategic roads, which will inevitably increase CO2 emissions.

It is incoherent, and the only conclusion is that the stated objective of decarbonising transport is insincere. Follow the money.

The DfT's Justifications

The DfT told me that the huge spending on strategic roads (the busiest A-roads, and motorways) would "benefit all road users, whether cyclist or driver, passenger or pedestrian."

This is not a simple lie - like saying 'it wasn't me who stole £5', when you did. It is a statement about a more complicated situation. Still, people aren't allowed to ride bikes on motorways, and most people dare not cycle on busy A-roads. The claim that building motorways and dual carriageways will benefit cyclists is fundamentally not true.

This splurge on strategic roads will not benefit cyclists. It won't benefit anyone. It will lead to more traffic, more congestion and higher emissions.

"Better Outcomes for the Environment"

The DfT says its roads strategy will seek to "deliver better outcomes for the environment". This includes "halting or reversing any loss of biodiversity on the network."

But strategic roads are intrinsically awful for the environment, nature and biodiversity. They are directly responsible for deaths of animals and birds through collisions, they sever connections between parcels of habitat, and the noise damages the value of habitat. A recent study by Dr Sophia Cooke of Cambridge University found that 81% of bird species were less abundant by strategic roads.

The DfT's platitudes are therefore meaningless.

Environment and Well-Being Fund

The DfT points to a £345 "environment and well-being fund". That is 1.28% of the total money: 98.72% of the cash is being spent on environmental destruction, so the tiny environment fund will have a marginal effect, even assuming it were to be spent on something meaningful.

Congestion = Emissions, says the DfT

The final dishonest claim from the DfT is that this road-building programme "can reduce congestion and therefore emissions."

Since emissions come from burning fossil fuels, not from "congestion", this argument is dishonest. More roads means higher volumes of traffic and greater emissions. Road-building does not contribute to decarbonising transport; it increases CO2 emissions from transport.

Transport for Quality of Life says emissions from building the roads, higher speeds on faster roads, and extra traffic generated by the new roads, would mean wiping out 80% of any benefits from electric cars.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the DfT's sophistry is immoral.

Cycling UK's Take on the Spending Review

In the Spending Review today Chancellor Rishi Sunak took money away from cycling. £2bn over five years would be £400 million per year, but Sunak has allocated just £257 million for cycling next year. Meanwhile, he confirmed that the government is to plough £27.4bn into high-carbon roads over 5 years.

Cycling UK say that the government is failing to meet its own objectives for funding cycling and walking, and the package is completely at odds with the decarbonisation strategy.

'The £257 million set aside for active travel next year is less than 1% of the £27.4 billion roads budget the Government remains stubbornly wedded to. Reducing next year's funding by around £45 million makes the delivery of the Government's own targets to increase levels of cycling and walking almost impossible, without the radical shift in transport spending priorities required to decarbonise transport.'
Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns at Cycling UK

Spending Review Undermines UK Green Vision

Roger Harrabin's article on the BBC website points out that campaigners say the road-building programme will attract more traffic and increase emissions.

'With billions of pounds earmarked for a climate-wrecking road-building programme and inadequate funding for home insulation, eco-heating, buses and cycling, this strategy falls woefully short.'
Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth
'[The government is] abandoning all pretence of ambition over decarbonisation. The Spending Review was a moment to unleash the green economic revolution, but Sunak failed. Instead of grasping the nettle and resetting our country on an economic course based around green jobs and investment, we had barely a mention of the climate crisis we face.'
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA