THE BLOG

New Roads Are Not the Way Forward

10/11/2014 16:00 GMT | Updated 10/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Today's announcement on new road building from the Prime Minister is further confirmation that this government is driving us into an economic, social and environmental cul-de-sac.

Just as this government seems firmly and inexplicably attached to the fracking fantasy and the white elephant of nuclear in energy policy, on transport policy it's stuck in the age of the private car as king, reviving road projects that were understood to be pointless and destructive in the 1980s when we're already at or past "peak car".

Total car traffic now is now at the same level as is was in 2003 and the average distance driven by the average person fell by 13% from 1995 to 2013.

They government is failing to grasp that much of what was formerly essential movement, by road and air, has now been overtaken by technology. The Skype call, the video conference and the internet purchase are far more efficient, better for business and better for workers: it means that they can spend more time with their family, be at home in time to read the bedtime story or watch a film with their partner. And given the option, as in London, many would prefer the lower-stress choice of public transport, or the active exercise of cycling or walking to work than sitting in dull queues of traffic for hours

Even the Thatcher government came to appreciate that building new roads simply creates more traffic, which then leaves the main roads and runs through into villages and towns making congestion on local roads even worse.

And we know a lot more now about the massive health impacts of air pollution - indeed there's good cause to ask whether many of these roads can in fact legally be built, with national levels of nitrogen-dioxide and particulate matter already exceeding legal limits.

Investing in new roads, instead of affordable public transport available and useful to all, is also socially regressive - benefiting the already-haves at the expense of the have-nots. More than two-thirds of jobseekers don't have access to a car; we regularly hear about unemployed people who can't take jobs because there's simply no transport around to allow them to either get to a new job or to the interview.

Instead of new roads, the government should be investing in walking and cycling routes, in restoring local bus services that are critical to the lives of many and bringing them back under local authority control so they meet the needs of communities, rather than being timetabled solely for the profits of operators.

And then of course there's the direct environmental impacts of these proposed new roads. It's worth looking back a month or so to the shocking global figure on our total wildlife numbers, down 50% in 40 years. David Cameron's proposals would cause untold damage to our national parks in the Peak District and on the South Downs, and the proposal for Stonehenge would see 1.5km of new dual carriageway impacting on the World Heritage site.

All of this is heading into that cul-de-sac when many of our existing roads are falling apart underneath our wheels. Investment in essential maintenance and basic pothole repair is sorely lacking, with our overstretched local councils unable to find the case for basic needs; they're not going to magic funds for the £12 billion repair backlog out of hopelessly overstretched budgets.

So, it's time for the CBI and others to call for Mr. Cameron to do a U-turn on his transport policy. And it's time for him to listen.