Seven things you should know about Osborne’s new roads

July 11, 2013 by combehavendefenders

stop_osbourne_logo_v11. The Prime Minister, Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport (Patrick McLoughlin) are all promoting road building as a priority for the Government.

Indeed, the Government, Big Business and local councils are already pushing over 200 new road projects across England and Wales – conservatively costed at over £30bn – including 76 bypasses, 56 widened roads, 48 link roads and 9 bridges and tunnels. Many of these roads would affect areas protected for conservation, landscape and heritage reasons including 4 National Parks, 7 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), 39 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 64 Ancient Woods and 234 Local Wildlife Sites. 1

2. A recent unprecedented ‘health check of nature in the UK’ by the UK’s wildlife organisations found that “recent environmental changes are having a dramatic impact on nature in the UK” with over 60% of the 3,148 species assessed having declined over the last 50 years (31% had declined strongly). In addition to its direct impact on habitats, roads are also a significant contributor global warming, which is ‘having an increasing impact on nature in the UK.’ 2

3. “Road construction is bad value for money as a way of creating jobs. Its rationale is seriously flawed, its performance rarely audited and such benefits as do materialise are rarely maintained into the future as congestion builds up and eliminates the time savings of the flawed model of economic development” (John Whitelegg, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of York) 3

As a mature economy with high levels of good accessibility in all core regions, a UK firm’s transport costs are rarely more than 5% of total operating costs and labour availability. Instead, access to pools of highly skilled labour are the key determining factors in decisions around inward investment.

4. New road schemes are expensive and not easily deliverable in the short term, with costs often rising dramatically from when they receive initial approval (eg. the final cost of the BHLR is likely to be around £120m, 500% more than the 2002 figure of £24m).

Indeed, the cost of just four roads (including the BHLR) in the Department for Transport’s 2011 ‘Development Pool’ of transport projects would have been enough to fund much of the rest of the pool including high quality public transport schemes supporting growth in conurbations such as Greater Manchester, Leeds, South Yorkshire, the West Midlands and Bristol. 4

5. Increased road maintenance, improvements to local public transport, rail upgrades and cycling projects could all yield economic benefits in the short term at a fraction of a major road building programme, and without many of the damaging effects of the latter. The Campaign for Better Transport has identified ‘oven ready’ projects (ie. ones that could be delivered rapidly) in all of these categories. 5

6. Road transport accounts currently accounts for around 22% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike aviation and shipping, there are no technical, financial or organisational obstacles to the UK’s road transport system becoming zero carbon by 2050.

Indeed, this could be accomplished through a combination of spatial (eg. compact city design), fiscal (eg. re-establishing the Fuel Price Escalator) and behavioural measures (eg. reducing the motorway speed limit to 60mph) to radically reduce car use, combined with a shift to electric vehicles. 6

The last Government’s ‘Sustainable Travel Towns’ initiative (a five-year project in Darlington, Worcester, and Peterborough, costing £10m) had a profound effect on people’s transport choices eg. in Darlington the number of car trips dropped by 10%, while bus trips increased by 11% and cycling trips per person increased by 113%.

A major road building programme would instead be pushing the UK’s transport system in the opposite direction.

7. Cutting congestion, supporting the economy and cutting carbon require an effective mix of support for public transport and “smarter choices” programmes (that encourage and enable people to make non-car based transport decisions) and investment in low-cost measures like road maintenance and cycling infrastructure.

Building new roads is bad for jobs, bad for the countryside and bad for the climate.


1. See ‘Going backwards: the new roads programme’, Campaign for Better Transport, October 2012.

2. ‘State of Nature’, May 2013,

3. ‘The promises for job creation of road infrastructure are exaggerated’, Guardian, 19 April 2013,

4. ‘Smarter spending to boost the economy’, Campaign for Better Transport, November 2011,

5. ‘Smarter spending to boost the economy’, Campaign for Better Transport, November 2011,

6. ‘Towards a Zero Carbon Vision for UK Transport’, July 2010, Stockholm Environment Institute,

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