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Encouraging more driving in face of a climate emergency

Major new roads - bypasses, large distributor roads, dual carriageways and bigger motorway junctions, gain public money because they have been judged  to enable more traffic in the future, and traffic to travel faster. The modelling used by the government assumes that traffic goes up and up the next sixty years (the standard modelling period). On the basis that the amount of traffic in the future will be far, far greater than today, the road is deemed good value because it caters for this. It should be said that this assumption is currently questioned by many transport planners, but for the time being it remains in force.


More traffic means more carbon emissions, even if the vehicles are electric, because they still use power, and because they still have to be manufacture. The Transport Action Network have found the emissions data from extra traffic for 46 out of the 50 listed schemes, which reveals that National Highways estimates the extra traffic will lead to almost 33 million tonnes of extra carbon emissions. We also have the construction emissions data for 30 of the 50 RIS2 schemes, and National Highways data shows construction would add just under 6 million tonnes. The emissions from all the journeys to and from car-dependant housing estates and business parks that accrue along new roads is not factored in. 


How can we as a society continue to finance so much major road building this so far into the 21st century and having declared a climate emergency is a  question which the study team for the M4 to Dorset Study was not asked to consider.

We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!' 

Greta Thunberg 23rd September 2019


It would not have been asked by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, secretary of state for transport or by Liz Truss during her brief stint as PM.


Trevelyan had a ten-year record of climate change denial . As MP for Berwick on Tweed, she urged National Highways to dual the A1 to Scotland. National Highways, a limited company set up by the government to improve and expand the strategic road network, leads the M4-DC study.

In her first speech as Prime Minister, Liz Truss mentioned building new roads faster, not once but twice. As Transport Action Network said of Truss and Trevelyan, ‘They mistakenly believe building more roads will magically stimulate the economy, when investment in public transport, cycling and walking creates far bigger benefits.’

Anne-Marie Trevelyan told a Northern Powerhouse reception she wanted to ‘rocket- boost’ arterial roads. Ben Houchen, Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley and champion of the Tees Freeport, called for an end to the ‘villainisation’ of car drivers and suggested that within 20 years we may not need trains and buses because of driverless cars.


The appointment of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister is unlikely to see the drive for growth tempered by the crises of extinctions and climate emergency. A return to the 2019 manifesto may have reinstated the fracking ban but that manifesto also set the current budget of £28bn for roadbuilding. 


We will have to wait until the financial statement from Chancellor Hunt on 17 November to see if the sacred bulldozers of road-building have been shielded from the spending cuts threatening softer targets.  

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How can new roads really be part of our reaction to a climate emergency?


Even with electric vehicles, you still have to manufacture the cars, and producing electricity to run them still may eat into our green energy supply which could be used for better things. The government's 27 billion for new roads would be better spent on European-style local and regional public transport.

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