Campaign to Protect Rural England calls for halt to expansion in roadbuilding after study shows traffic actually increased faster in areas with new roads
New roads built in England have almost all failed to either relieve congestion or boost local economies, according to what campaigners claim is the biggest ever independent review of completed schemes.
A study of 86 road schemes commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) found most roads increased traffic while destroying the countryside.
The research, drawing on the government’s published evaluation of completed road schemes, was published as Highways England begins consultation over funding new roads.
The annual budget for road building is set to triple to £3bn by the end of the decade under the road investment strategy announced in 2014. The government says its strategy will encourage economic growth and support a “free-flow core network” of one mile-a-minute journey times. But the CPRE said that the research showed that road building over the past two decades had failed to deliver on similar aims.
Researchers found that traffic increased much more rapidly in areas with new roads, putting pressure on adjoining roads and giving negligible reductions in journey times. Only one in five road schemes promoted as a boost for local economies demonstrated evidence of any such benefit. Meanwhile, most of the analysed schemes harmed protected landscapes and attempts to protect rare animals and plants were not always successful.
Shaun Spiers, the chief executive of CPRE, said that in announcing the biggest road-building programme since the 1970s, the government had “junked the evidence … saloon bar policy-making won the day”.
Ralph Smyth, the head of infrastructure and legal at CPRE, said: “This a programme that will forever fail on its own terms, producing a depressing, self-perpetuating cycle of more and more roads that do little for the economy and harm the countryside.
“This landmark research shows that any benefits from roadbuilding are far smaller than thought but the harm much worse. Rather than looking to the past, the government must invest in a forward-looking mobility strategy that puts quality of life ahead of the car.”
Highways England said: “The strategic road network is vital to the success of the UK economy; we simply cannot operate without moving people, materials and goods around by road. The improvements we are delivering will ensure our roads continue to operate safely, efficiently and effectively, and are capable of meeting the demands placed upon them in a sustainable manner”.
“Our programme also focuses on upgrading the current network, and includes a set of ringfenced funds to deliver benefits that are important to customers and communities in addition to a safe, reliable network.”