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Transport Action Network permitted to challenge Government road building plans

TAN is bringing the case against the five-year Road Investment Strategy on climate change and air quality grounds

Juliana O'Rourke
25 July 2020
The Transport of Quality of Life study calculates 80% of the carbon savings from switching to electric vehicles will be wiped out by the £27 billion roads plan that TAN is seeking to challenge in court. Headline in the i, July 10
The Transport of Quality of Life study calculates 80% of the carbon savings from switching to electric vehicles will be wiped out by the £27 billion roads plan that TAN is seeking to challenge in court. Headline in the i, July 10

 

On 24 July, Chris Todd, Director of the Transport Action Network (TAN), announced: 'We’ve won the first round in our David and Goliath battle against the Department for Transport’s (DfT) £27bn roads programme. We were given permission to proceed with our legal challenge to the "largest ever roads programme" at the High Court this week. An order by Mrs Justice Lieven declared the case to be significant, meaning it will be fast-tracked for a full hearing by November.'

TAN will take part in a free webinar on transport investment: delivering Net Zero and wider social benefits on July 29 @ 15.00

Speaking to Local Transport Today (LTT), our sister publication, Todd said: 'The High Court has granted environmental campaigners the right to present their judicial review challenge against the Government’s trunk road programme. We’re delighted.'

Climate Change is the elephant in the room when it comes to transport. It is the one area consistently ignored by the Department for Transport as it suggests that the increase in emissions that arises from new roads and the traffic they generate is so insignificant it can be covered by other measures. Unfortunately, the evidence is showing this to be wrong

The challenge is being brought by the same legal team from solicitors Leigh Day who brought the successful action against the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), and its support for Heathrow Airport expansion. The Court of Appeal ruled in February that the airports NPS was unlawful because it had not taken account of the UN Paris Agreement on climate change of December 2015 (LTT 06 Mar). 

The roads case is similar, focusing on the Paris Agreement and the Government’s adoption last year of a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Todd told LTT. Leigh Day says the Government has not considered whether RIS2 is consistent with either commitment (LTT 01 May). Air quality is another aspect of the case. 

A DfT spokeswoman told LTT on Thursday this week, after the High Court had permitted the challenge: 'We don’t comment on ongoing legal proceedings. We have nothing further to add.'

The David and Goliath battle

I asked Todd what had prompted TAN to take on this huge task. 'There didn't seem to be any other NGOs looking to bring the challenge, and we felt that we needed to take the opportunity,' he said. Todd does not have a professional background in transport, but comes from an engineering background. He's had extensive experience of campaigning on a variety of issues and years of involvement with planning and transport at a local and regional level.

'Several NGOs were involved with the Climate Change Act, but I think transport has slipped down agenda of the bigger NGOs,' says Todd. 'But roads have huge impacts, and it's not just about carbon, although that's huge. Many roads schemes are impacting very significantly on national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. As we have all discovered in during COVID-19 and the lockdown, roads and vehicle traffic impact negatively on air quality, road safety and noise pollution levels. And many of these impacts don't disappear with electric vehicles,' he adds.

TAN is primarily funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport (FIT), among other sources (including donations), and adds that it's the role of organisations like FIT to support organisations like TAN, rather than doing the action itself. 

'We are prepared to go as far as we can,' says Todd, 'and to push the government as far as possible. We'll have to wait and see what happens in the Courts, of course. But I think the Government is starting to wake up to the fact that it has a problem with transport and with road building.'

TAN notes on its website: 'Climate Change is the elephant in the room when it comes to transport. It is the one area consistently ignored by the Department for Transport as it suggests that the increase in emissions that arises from new roads and the traffic they generate is so insignificant it can be covered by other measures. Unfortunately, the evidence is showing this to be wrong.'

Todd mentions a recent report by Transport of Quality of Life, which clearly stated that road pricing, lower speed limits and the cancellation of road improvements in the Government’s Road Investment Strategy must implemented to ensure transport contributes to the statutory net zero greenhouse gas target. Also this month, a new report by Campaign for Better Transport noted that before COVID-19 hit, the Transport Secretary had promised 'bold and ambitious action' to ensure that 'public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities'.

The Transport of Quality of Life study calculates 80% of the carbon savings from switching to electric vehicles will be wiped out by the £27 billion roads plan that TAN is seeking to challenge in court. Building roads would, it found, increase carbon emissions by 20 million tonnes up to 2032, a period when it is critical there are rapid reductions. Todd says that Government responses on the issues of the carbon impact have been 'misleading'.

'Only a few days earlier, he notes, the Department for Transport finally filed its response to our case. There it asserted it was simply 'impossible' that the UK’s largest ever roads plan could hinder tackling climate change and that the Paris Agreement wasn’t obviously relevant. Government lawyers argued this meant ministers were justified in simply ploughing on for now and promising to publish a carbon cutting plan in the future. Todd says that TAN was 'shocked by this response.'

The news of TAN's legal successes came a few days after climate litigation charity, Plan B, took a ‘decisive step’ towards legal action, serving the Government with a Pre-Action Protocol letter over its failure to consider the consequences for the climate emergency of its approach to COVID-19 recovery.

Plan B has been established to support strategic legal action against climate change. By ensuring those responsible for greenhouse gas emissions bear the costs of loss and damage, it says, 'we will increase the incentives for investment in clean technologies, harnessing market forces towards a better future for us all'.

The £27bn Road Investment Strategy 2 was announced alongside the Budget in March but had been years in the making. 'We’re challenging it on the basis that ministers published it without considering the Net Zero target, which became law in June 2019. The government’s response was that it was entitled to put off thinking about the implications until after it published a Transport Decarbonisation Plan later in 2020, which it is currently consulting on. This was despite the fact that ministers agreed any such plan will inevitably need to set out how to use cars less,' says Todd.

The Government messaging on public transport has been, until now, completely abysmal, notes Todd. 'It has completely undermined the sector, and buses and trains are facing serious trouble. And the fear is that there's a long-term impact, and that significant numbers have been deterred from using public transport for quite some time. And that could have serious implications for traffic pollution. In urban areas, there is an opportunity to significantly increase walking and cycling, but changing things for rural areas is not going to be so easy with the way transport is currently funded or organised.' 

The legal challenge will now come at a crucial time, adds Todd, when the Chancellor is due to set out new spending priorities and transport ministers have to make decisions on flagship road schemes, such as the A303 Stonehenge and A303 Sparkford – Ilchester. These were due to be decided on 17 July but Grant Shapps MP has deferred a decision on both schemes until November, calling for more information.

TAN's website references results from polls showing increased support for improving air quality but opposition to road building.

 
 
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