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Campaign group urges Labour to shelve ‘white elephant’ road schemes

Deniz Huseyin
06 June 2024
Chris Todd: Politicians need to realise that you can’t build your way out of congestion. In fact, you risk making it worse as their own figures show
Chris Todd: Politicians need to realise that you can’t build your way out of congestion. In fact, you risk making it worse as their own figures show

 

The future of roads policy in England has been called into question after the pausing of the flagship Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) project and the postponement of the third road investment strategy (RIS3) draft ahead of the General Election on 4 July.

The Government was set to decide whether to give planning permission for the £10bn LTC project by 20 June. Instead, Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that the decision would be delayed until 4 October due to the General Election and to allow “appropriate time” for any new Secretary of State to consider the application.

The crossing would connect to the existing road network from the A2/M2 to the M25 with two tunnels (one southbound and one northbound) running beneath the River Thames.

Campaign group Transport Action Network (TAN) welcomed the delay of a decision on LTC, but added that the scheme should be scrapped. Director of TAN Chris Todd hopes that a new Labour government, if elected, would re-assess major roads schemes such as LTC and the £2.5bn Stonehenge scheme, which would see the A303 turned from a single to dual carriageway for eight miles between Amesbury and Berwick Down. The £1.5bn A66 Northern Trans-Pennine road scheme - to dual the remaining 30km of single carriageway sections of the A66 between M6 (J40) at Penrith and the A1(M) (J53) at Scotch Corner - is currently facing a legal challenge from TAN.

“The benefit cost ratio (BCR) of these roads schemes is always less than one, which means they’ll deliver less benefit than they cost,” Todd told LTT.

He said these were National Highways’ own figures and are “on the optimistic side, presenting best case scenarios”.

In April Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh set out plans to take Britain’s rail network into public ownership and to support local transport authorities take back control of their bus services.

However, Haigh has so far said little about roads or active travel policy. Chris Todd told LTT: “If Labour is sincere about reforming rail and bus services it is going to have to invest heavily. Reform alone will not be sufficient to deliver the transformational change required. They will need to find the money from somewhere and that could come from the many white elephant road schemes.”

There should be much more emphasis on repairing, maintaining and adapting existing roads, said Todd. “Politicians need to realise that you can’t build your way out of congestion. In fact, you risk making it worse as their own figures show. Equally, dualling is a very inefficient and costly way of improving safety. National Highways’ current approach will see it miss its Road to Zero Harm target by 2040 by miles, putting thousands of lives at risk.”

Relatively straightforward and cheaper measures such as average speed cameras, proper crossings, central barriers and crawler lanes are some examples of quicker and more effective ways of tackling safety across the whole of the road network.

The DfT had been due to release details of which road schemes would be included in the next five-year RIS3 strategy, but this will now not be released until after the General Election (see below).

All the major parties are due to publish their manifestos, including transport policies, next week.

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