The Autumn Statement was a missed opportunity. Despite some positive announcements on devolution, the government’s fetish for ever more roads comes at the expense of both the environment and more effective and better value public transport alternatives.
Both road and rail featured prominently in the mini-budget and its associated announcements, reflecting how important transport is for rebalancing the economy – and as a policy issue ahead of the General Election.
The publication of the Roads Investment Strategy (RIS), a four-year plan for the strategic road network, was presented as a £15bn road building exercise, bringing the running total committed to road spending to £30bn.
Badly flawed feasibility studies have been used to justify damaging road building schemes right across the country.
Some proposals are likely to be flashpoints, including the Stonehenge tunnel, A27 Arundel bypass in the South Downs, a number of road building plans in the Peak District and the A417 in the Cotswolds.
The government claims the investment will be transformational, creating jobs and reducing journey times. But this is wishful thinking, ignoring the inconvenient truth that new roads create new traffic.
Worse, the Government has given notice that its fixation with new tarmac will continue indefinitely. The RIS announced there will be new studies into dualing the A66 and A69, an expressway between Oxford and Cambridge, and the beginnings of a new London orbital outside the M25 and even a £6bn road tunnel under the Peak District.
This is all happening while better, more sustainable, transport options like cycling and walking are not getting the investment they need, and buses are even seeing their funding being cut.
Other transport announcements were generally more positive, if lacking the detail that had been hoped for. The Chancellor was not able to announce any other cities had joined Manchester in taking more control of transport affairs from Whitehall.
There were encouraging signs about the transport element of the Northern Powerhouse. Transport for the North (covering Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle) is in its early days, but could evolve into a regional transport authority, copying similar approaches in Germany, for example.
The government must back up the progress being made here with a comprehensive transport strategy for the north, an interim version of which is due from the Department for Transport in the spring. Plans for significant investment need also to be clear in the Invitations to Tender for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises due imminently.
These initiatives show government has a vital role in facilitating transport policy that fits with modern needs. They also draw into sharp focus the problems with its approach to roads, much of which are simply about building more and bigger, regardless of need, desirability or effectiveness.
Andrew Allen is policy analyst at the Campaign for Better Transport