The new Labour government made a manifesto pledge to cut road building and traffic growth but today's escalating number of road schemes suggests that the Government has given up on this commitment. However, campaigners have not given up on holding the Government to account, and groups are springing up around the country to oppose the outdated 'predict and provide' approach to transport.
One of the big differences for today's campaigners is that there is no single roads programme so it is not so easy to find out just what road schemes are planned. Since 1998 many roads have been de-trunked which means that responsibility for these has passed from national government to local authorities. Many current road plans are part of Regional Spatial Strategies (information on which can be found on regional government websites), which feed into Local Transport Plans.
Though piecemeal, when looked at overall, current roads proposals add up to quite a programme! Indeed, the latest Transport White Paper, July 2004's 'The Future of Transport', stated that "we can’t build our way out of congestion", yet continued a few lines down with "we need to … identify, fund and deliver promptly additional road capacity." Last December the National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the Highways Agency for not testing out different measures and technologies for tackling congestion.
Climate change was one of the motivating factors behind anti-roads campaigning in the nineties, and if it was pressing then it is even more so now. The House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee has rung alarm bells over transport plans, stating in August 2004 that "a more imaginative and radical strategy is needed" for transport if it is not to undermine the Government's strategy on climate change.
Transport is the fastest growing UK source of the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport (including aviation) were 47 per cent higher in 2002 than in 1990, with road transport making up 18 per cent of all UK emissions in 2002. According to the Government's Climate Change Review consultation paper, carbon dioxide emissions from road transport are expected to grow by about nine per cent between 2000 and 2010. The same consultation paper admitted that tinkering with fuel efficiency measures won't counteract this.
These big issues can seem distant but the work of campaigners at a local level can have quite an impact. For example, effective opposition to road schemes around the UK will hopefully make the Government sit up and re-think its road building plans, and not listen to the self-interested motorists' lobby groups.
Road Block is holding a national networking conference on 4th June, in Birmingham. The conference will be a chance to share information and compare strategies for defeating road schemes. New and experienced campaigners alike are welcome but numbers are limited so please book in advance. For booking forms contact Road Block on 01803 847649 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info visit www.roadblock.org.uk.