November 12, 2013 by combehavendefenders
We’re not the only ones struggling against a pointless, destructive road. All over the country, there are plans afoot for new roads, and people coming together to resist them. If built, the new roads will cost a minimum of £28bn, almost certainly much more as road projects overrun on average by 40%.
Who decides how the money is spent?
Decisions on spending on transport infrastructure is currently being devolved from the Department for Transport to Local Transport Boards (LTBs), subgroups of Local Enterprise Partnerships. Many of the members of these partnerships are local businessmen (there are very few women to be seen) appointed by the governing board – in other words, unelected and unaccountable people, making decisions on how to spend our money.
Roads, roads, roads…
In their draft spending plans, the vast majority of LTBs (including the South East LTB, chaired by our old friend Peter Jones, ex-leader of East Sussex County Council), have chosen to prioritise roads over public transport. A new report by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that out of an allocation of £1.3bn, LTBs have chosen to allocate £710m to roadbuilding and a further £151m to mixed schemes with some element of new roads. Cycling projects are allocated nothing at all.
Jobs, jobs, jobs…
Virtually all the road schemes have one thing in common: their promoters (usually the local county council) claim that they will create jobs. Thousands of jobs. That claim – whether they can substantiate it or not – appears to give them carte blanche to throw money at environmentally destructive, hugely costly road projects. Evidence – as opposed to speculation – shows that the promises for job creation from building roads are exaggerated, but that is of no concern to the roadbuilders, who are barefaced about their dubious claims. In the case of the Bexhill Hastings Link Road (BHLR), former East Sussex County Council leader Peter Jones claims repeatedly that the road will create 3,000 jobs, despite the Department for Transport having stated that the actual number would be closer to 900 (of which 40% would go to people outside the area).
Some of the current anti-road campaigns
1. A new motorway across the Gwent Levels.
This is being proposed by the Welsh government as a means of easing congestion on the M4 around Newport. It would cost £1.2bn and five miles of its seven mile length would run through nationally important sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). As with the BHLR, the plans include large areas around the road designated as ’employment land’; the Welsh government can therefore claim that it’s not only good for the motorist, it’s good for the economy. There is currently (until December 16) a ‘consultation’ on the road.
The consultation document makes interesting reading; noise impacts and air quality would improve (because there would be less traffic on the M4, and since nobody lives in the SSSIs, increased noise and air pollution there is irrelevant); the impact on greenhouse gas emissions is recorded as positive because of the reduction in traffic on the M4 – even though the document concedes that the increased road capacity may lead to a long-term increase in emissions.
The consultation document is nicely illustrated with three photos of a busy motorway; of course, there are no photos of the countryside that will be destroyed if this road goes ahead.
2. The Silvertown Tunnel
The Silvertown Tunnel is a proposal to build a third tunnel under the Thames from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. It is backed by Greenwich council and London Mayor Boris Johnson, who claim it will reduce traffic congestion in south and southeast London.
However, a group of local people has come together to oppose the tunnel, claiming that it will increase pollution and congestion in the local area. The carried out their own study in Greenwich, measuring pollution near the approach to the proposed tunnel; half the sites studied were found to be already above EU air quality limits, even before any increase in traffic caused by the tunnel.
The tunnel, if built, would also cause a huge increase in noise pollution: see here for an article by John Stewart looking at this aspect of the issue.
3. South Bristol Link Road
Originally called the South Bristol Ring Road, this was planned as a dual carriageway in three stages cutting though the green belt and several residential areas. Stage 3 was dropped after public opposition and the road was renamed the ‘South Bristol Link’.
It is now planned as a 5km single carriageway road, with a Bus Rapid Transit attached. The road and bus scheme are being promoted to ‘improve access to Central Bristol and to the strategic road network’. Another stated aim of the scheme is improve access to Bristol Airport, which has been granted permission to expand its capacity to 10 million passengers a year.
As with most such schemes, the promoters claim that it will ‘unlock’ many jobs – up to 3,000 according to the West of England Partnership. However, as with the Bexhill Hastings Link Road, there is no clear explanation as to where these jobs will come from.
Campaigners point out that the road would destroy agricultural land on the edge of the city, open the greenbelt up to development, cut across rural brooks and a long distance footpath in several places and be a prominent scar on the landscape. It would sever several residential areas and cut across Highridge Common, a valuable and well-used area of unimproved grassland.
A similar scheme put forward in 2002 was assessed as being poor value for money. This one is likely to be the same, benefiting only the roadbuilders and the developers who will move in to cover the surrounding area in industrial units.
4. Norwich Northern Distributor Route (NNDR)
Funded in the same round as the BHLR, the NNDR has been granted almost £90m by the Department for Transport out of a total cost of almost £150m. The project would include a 20km bypass and ‘development road’ (we all know what that means) around the NE of Norwich, together with a huge gyratory system at Postwick, a village 3 miles east of Norwich (the ‘Postwick Hub’) to connect the proposed bypass to the existing A47.
Although funding is in place, planning permission has not yet been granted, and the results of a public ‘consultation’ which concluded in September 2013 have yet to be seen. The news that the Postwick Hub had been assessed as having a negative (-2.7) cost-benefit ratio was not enough to deal the scheme a death blow. Needless to say, the county council is claiming it will create thousands of jobs and relieve traffic congestion.
Local campaigners, however, point out that there is no evidence the new road would decrease congestion in Norwich, but would almost certainly increase traffic on radial roads. The county council has never looked properly at alternative sustainable transport schemes, and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership has admitted that their plans for new housing developments north of the city could go ahead without the new road.
More information: Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group (NNTAG)