In his Autumn Statement this December, chancellor George Osborne will announce details of the first Road Investment Strategy (RIS). Controversially this will not only cover maintenance spending, but will increase the budget for road construction from £1.5bn in 2014-15 to £3.8bn in 2020-21.
Officially the responsibility of the Department for Transport (DfT), the RIS will be implemented by the new Strategic Highways Company, otherwise known as the Highways Agency, in it’s forthcoming guise as an arms-length government company. This “roads first” approach will draw schemes from the Highways Agency’s 18 “route based strategies” and the DfT’s six major feasibility studies, which are currently developing proposals along key transport corridors. This will effectively lock into the new Highways Agency a responsibility for building more roads by tripling its budget for doing so.
It does not need to be like this. The major road network is long overdue targeted investment to reduce its impact. For example, main roads rarely contribute positively to the experience of the countryside. Work is needed to improve the natural setting of roads in protected areas, reducing their visual impact and tackling noise and other pollution. Improved landscaping, less lighting, and less clutter such as gantries and signage, could help do this while lower noise surfaces would help restore tranquility.
Similarly, many communities are cut in half by main roads, making life more dangerous for local people. A coherent programme of measures to help tackle this problem with safe crossings and other new facilities to support walking and cycling would bring huge benefits.
With this in mind, Campaign for Better Transport has joined with the big conservation and environment groups to call for the RIS to include a £3bn green retrofit programme for main roads. Our new report - Better not bigger - sets out how using 20% of the capital budget for roads on corridor, and area-wide retrofit programmes could deliver huge benefits for natural resources, landscape, biodiversity and the communities that live around major roads.
Rather than scarring the country with yet more Tarmac to fill up with new traffic, the government should use the first RIS to focus on making our existing roads less damaging and more efficient. A green retrofit would be popular, effective and great value for money.
- Andrew Allen is policy analyst at Campaign for Better Transport