Wednesday, 1 February 2012

In midst of recession, Government new road building spend at highest for a decade

New road schemes on the increase
The government spent more money on new road schemes last year than in any other year over the last decade a new Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.

Transport is responsible for around a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions making it the second biggest greenhouse gas emitting sector after energy. The UK says it is committed to reducing greenhouse gases in the battle to prevent out of control global warming. So why is the government spending more money on road expansion now than at any time in the last decade.  

The FOI request sent to the Department of Transport asked 'how much has been spent on new road schemes since the year 2000, divided into annual spend?' The results contradict the claims this government make that they are a party of the environment. The money spent in 2010/11 came to £981 million, almost £150 million more than the previous year, and more than any time over the last decade. The sum doesn't include Local Authority schemes but if they did, then an additional £193 million would need to be added to the overall amount taking the spend for last year to over £1.1 billion. This from a government whose claims of being the 'greenest government ever' look ever more ridiculous by the day. 

Most worrying of all is a trend which has seen new road spend rise massively in the second half of this decade, at a time when the message ought to be to drive less.

The FOI request shows the total spend on roads has increased by 100% over the last five years. From 2001/02 to 2005/06 the total spend on new schemes was just under £2 billion - then from 2006/07 to 2010/11 it doubled to £4 billion. 

Surely the government ought to be spending less on roads and more on cycling infrastructure if they want to properly deal with congestion. New capacity may in the short-term make journeys shorter, but in the long run, the roads soon fill up again. This has been known for some time. A landmark report by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) called ‘Trunk roads and the generation of traffic’, HMSO, 1994, concluded that new roads generate new traffic growth.

A major independent study titled 'Beyond Transport Infrastructure' highlighted on the Campaign for Better Transport website, looked into the impact of the Newbury bypass and 2 other road schemes. The report showed that traffic levels predicted for 2010 in Newbury were already reached by 2003 – and that traffic had increased by almost 50% in that period. New development around the road was partially to blame for the increases.
Indeed, even by their own admission, the DfT admit congestion poses a very real long-term economic threat, which if left unchecked could 'cost the taxpayer an extra £22 billion in wasted time by 2025.'
The message this government appears to be sending out is: keep driving and we will build more roads to fit more of you in. Road traffic has increased in the last 15 years by 25% despite some efforts to get people onto bikes. A report by the European Cyclists Federation conducted a study on the cost effectiveness of modes of transport in the battle to reduce Transport carbon omissions and concluded if EU citizens were to cycle as much as the Danes in 2000, (an average of 2.6km a day), it would 'help the EU meet more than a quarter of the targeted emission reductions for the transport sector.' This government it  would seem has other priorities.


DfT spend on new road schemes by year (£m)

Highways Agency Schemes
2000/01
299
2001/02
424
2002/03
483
2003/04
235
2004/05
317
2005/06
483
2006/07
814
2007/08
759
2008/09
725
2009/10
733
2010/11
981

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