The government is currently ring fencing £15billion for new road building programmes across the United Kingdom, with George Osborne stating that new roads will "unlock jobs for the future and local growth by creating a road network that is fit for the 21st Century."
At the core of every road building project there is the idea that new, bigger roads reduce congestion. However, Highway Agency statistics show quite the reverse with new roads increasing congestion on other local roads by up to 137% as well as resulting in more new car journeys. So why expand a road if it doesn't ease congestion in the first place?
Further evidence suggests that new roads offer low value for public money as a measure to reduce people's time spent in traffic. This is especially true when compared to policies that expand the public transport network or reduce ticket prices.
With further road expansion locals will also inevitably see severe adverse effects on their health. Experts believe that 70% of air pollution comes from cars and lorries. We know that 55,000 people die every year in the UK because of air pollution (Clean Air in London), yet we plan to build more roads and increase the amount of toxins in the air. And as the congestion worsens in the areas of high traffic volume, the road noise along with increased air pollution proves to be an even bigger burden - and a real life health hazard to local residents.
The Government's road building programme needs to be scrutinised and the money re-directed. With public services experiencing cuts like never before there are so many better ways this money could be used. Here are just a few ideas for what you could spend £15bn on instead:
• A 10% cut in bus and rail fares to encourage commuters and locals to drive less.
• Investment in improvements to public transport networks to reverse current commuting patterns back to using less car journeys. Investments could include better lighting, enclosed waiting points, provision of local emergency numbers and electronic information on services, and other security measures such as CCTV.
• Investment in social housing to address the huge problem of an estimated 1.7million people currently languishing on social housing waiting lists.
• Reversing cuts to the most vulnerable in our society such as disabled people. The Government expects to make savings of £154 million per year by scrapping The Independent Living Fund which tens of thousands of disabled people rely on. Surely, ensuring that disabled and vulnerable people have adequate care and support is more important than building new roads.
• Re-instating our right to free education for people of all ages. I would invest government funds in the education system instead.