Memorandum submitted by Road Block
Road Block is an alliance of groups and individuals
campaigning against road-building. It was launched in response
to the U-turn in transport policy, where the Government's original
commitments to a policy of traffic reduction were abandoned for
the old-fashioned notions of predict-and-provide, which characterise
present policy. The present massive roads programme is in direct
contradiction to the logic and spirit of the stated concerns of
Government for a policy of environmental protection, sustainability,
social inclusion and integration.
Nothing so well illustrates the move away from
the assertion that "the Environment is at the heart of government
policy" as the faltering commitment of the Government to
action on climate change. This Government has made great play
on the world stage of its greenhouse gas commitments, stressing
how it would meet not only its Kyoto commitment of 8% below 1990
levels of CO2 by 2008-12; not only its EU commitment
of 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2010; but would meet its own standard
of 20% below 1990 levels by 2010 (note that none of these levels
comes near what Climate Change scientists say is necessary to
avert disaster, especially considering it leaves out the worst
potential emitterthe aviation industry).
The government has given up on its boasted 20% target but has
consistently boasted (Ministers like Margaret Beckett and Elliot
Morley for example) until very recently that it "is on course
to meet its Kyoto targets".
If this were true, it would be very difficult
to assert that it had anything to do with government measures
to reduce emissions. The main contributor to Britain's decline
in greenhouse gas emissions has been the trailing effect of the
destruction of the British coal industry and the flight to gas
(coal energy from oxidising carbonoutput CO2;
gas energy from oxidising carbon and hydrogenoutput CO2
The Kyoto progress merely appears to pick up
the tail end of the coal decline:
The important thing is that the coal effect
is bottoming out (reflected in the graphs for the energy industry
generally). What we know about road transport, however, is that
the emissions are rising (where the energy industries and other
industries have declined by about 12% [2004 on 1990], road transport
has increased by about 9%:
The mythology promoted by the DfT and DEFRA
is that automobile technology will ensure new efficiencies. Technology
clearly is improving all the time, but automobile technology is
a mature technologyunless there are fundamentally new insights
into the technology (and there haven't been for 40 years or more)
the normal model of technology development may be expected to
applyie incremental efficiency gains get smaller with time.
There is no obvious sign that the growth in road transport emissions
is asymptotically slowingindeed we can pretty well fit
a straight line by normal statistical least squares processesthe
red graph above extrapolates the trend.
So industry emissions are apparently bottoming
out, the residential emissions are rising (not shown here) and
the transport emissions are rising, without prospect of remission.
The net effect is becoming obvious in the tail of the Kyoto graph.
The bottoming out of the Kyoto basket appears to have occurred
at 2001. While the data does not permit too much extrapolation,
the current trend in the Kyoto basket puts the figure at the end
of the Kyoto window (2012) at -5% on 1990 levels instead of our
commitment of -8%, and at the 2010 point, instead of our commitment
under the EU of -12.5% (and our own boast of -20%), we will achieve
only about -6.5%. In all cases the situation continues to worsen
into the future.
Why is Road Transport protected?
Apart from the particular disgrace of air transport,
road transport appears to be given special dispensation by Government
to go on polluting. We do not understand why this should be so.
It seems extraordinary to us that central government is actually
going out of its way to encourage profligate use of resources
for an activity which appear not to confer any net economic benefit
on the nation. Compared with manufacturing or financial service
sectors of the economy, which clearly are wealth-generating, it
is not clear to us how the road transport sector is contributing
It appears to be assumed that road transport
is an unqualified good in the economy. Yet such studies as there
have been (eg the Blueprint studies of Professor Pearce) have
shown that road transport externalises about 2/3
of its costs (taxes collected in hypothecation amount to about
1/3 of the quantifiable externalised costs).
Without road transport paying its true costs it is hard to see
why one should assume that it represents an overall economic good
for the nation. Indeed there appears to be no evidence from the
overall statistics that investment in road infrastructure has
an economic benefit.
We can, for example, relate economic growth
to the length of new road built. As an example we can mathematically
correlate a time series of GDP growth rate and motorway-km built
If we do this we for 1957-2004 we get the curve below:
What this mathematically signifies is that,
on average, across the nation, a year or so after building a road
there is a negative economic benefit (as one would expect from
any investmentall cost and no return), but not only does
this not recover, but it gets worse, and overall for more than
10 years after the investment the statistics indicate that the
economy tends to suffer from the investment (if the conventional,
government view of the economic benefit of roadbuilding were correct
this curve should be for the greater part positive).
We are not saying that transport, including
road transport, is not necessary to the wellbeing of an economy,
merely that the evidence suggests that road transport is at a
level beyond economic usefulness. The famous observation that
Glasgow supermarkets sell milk from Dorset, when there are plenty
of cows in Scotland, is a simple demonstration of a distorted
economics, which we can assume is brought about by road users
not paying the true costs of their activity.
Road transport is probably, therefore, a net
consumer of wealth. And yet compared with other economic activity
it is considered less necessary to tackle its adverse climate
change effects. The DfT may have adopted a PSA committing itself
to reduce greenhouse gases in line with the overall EU commitment
and enshrining an aim to meet the more stringent 20% objective,
but there is no evidence yet that it is actually going to do anything.
As seasoned observers of the DfT we know that it will not do anything
unless the top level of government forces it to.
We would observe for example that the DfT still
justifies its road investment by its COBA assessment which gains
its presumed benefit of investment from increasing the traffic.
The DfT is certainly planning huge increases in road infrastructure,
all of which will increase traffic and emissions (quite apart
from the resource use and emissions from the activity of construction
Where did we go wrong?
The intellectual argument on road traffic was
won more than 10 years ago. Government acknowledged that "we
cannot build our way out of congestion"road building
merely generates traffic and solves no problems. Parliament acknowledged
that there was too much traffic 10 years ago, but in 1998 the
Government effectively emasculated the Traffic Reduction Bill
by promising good intentions ("trust us")John
Prescott (Guardian 6/6/97): "I will have failed if
in five years time there are not many more people using public
transport and far fewer journeys by car. It's a tall order but
I urge you to hold me to it". And the Secretary of State
for the Environment (Today programme 1/12/1997): (we will deliver)
"a major change in the use of transport" and bring about
"the reduced use of cars and vehicles on the road".
So what happened? The Fuel Protest was the excuse
for the U-turn, but the scale of the protest does not explain
this. The actual Fuel Protest was a tiny affair compared with
environmental protestsat its peak fewer people were involved
in picketing the refineries than were involved on the construction
site every day for five months at Twyford Down for example. The
protest only had its effect at the petrol pump as a result of
media hysteria and the police not taking any of the sort of action
they have always been very happy to take with environmental protest.
The ability to make the U-turn was undoubtedly
partly down to a personal anti-environmentalism at the heart of
government, at considerable odds with the posturing on climate
change there. But the promised traffic reduction path was also
undoubtedly undermined by the ever subtle workings of the DfTthe
old trahison des clercs. Opponents of roadbuilding soon
realised what was going on. For example, the discovery by Government
of what everyone knew, that building roads generated traffic,
was brilliantly subverted by the DfT. Where most people would
think that adding traffic was only making a manifest problem worse,
the DfT began computing benefit from it. The COBA process now
explicitly adds benefit to the appraisal of a road scheme, by
considering induced traffic is the realisation of an opportunity
to make more journeys.
Now the DfT is as big a road-builder as it ever
was under the discredited Roads for Prosperity policy.
Major schemes are now promoted by as gung ho a Highways Agency
as ever. The supposed new deal of 1997 was suborned in dozens
of ways. The language of environmentalists was taken over. Objectors
at Inquiries found that roads were being astonishingly represented
as performing an environmental purpose, that "sustainability"
was absorbed into the oxymoronic notion of "sustainable growth",
that even "integration" was suborned into the notion
that new roads allowed local authorities to introduce public transport.
In the infamous multi-modal studies, consultants,
with a long pedigree of business in highway planning, would supposedly
examine the transport requirements of corridors, but only come
up with new roads as fundable schemes and righteous public transport
future wish lists that they knew would be unfundable.
What can be done?
If we believed that the DfT actually means to
abide by the PSA commitment it has asserted then it takes very
little imagination to think of how they could achieve climate
change gas emission reduction. Having observed how the wishes
of Parliament expressed in the Road Traffic Reduction Bill and
the international commitments we have made on Climate Change,
have been suborned by the DfT, however, we have very little faith
that they will mend their ways.
As we have said, very little can be expected
from improvements in the technology of motor vehicles. The other
greatly misleading hope that Government expresses is for increased
use of biofuels. It is now clear that the market for biofuels
is driving destruction of large areas of Amazonian and Borneo
jungles. How the clearance of rainforest, the great sink of CO2,
can be reckoned to assist the combating of global warming is beyond
any sensible imagining. And the use of scarce land for fuelling
motor cars in the rich west, when two billion people on this
planet are short of food, is simply monstrous.
The single most effective thing that could be
done is to change the purpose and structure of the Highways Agency.
If government were the least bit serious about tackling climate
change it would order an instant moratorium on all road building.
This should not be a moratorium of the dishonest kind that we
had 10 years ago, that could be subtly undermined by the assiduous
workings of civil servants, but a real acknowledgement that the
age of road building was over. As such the Highways Agency would
have no more responsibility for planning and building roads, but
merely maintaining them.
As we have said it is obvious what measures
can be taken to reduce climate change emissions. Essentially we
need to reduce road traffic. The obvious process for this in the
short term is to step back on the fuel price escalator. No tax
is more fair and equitablefirstly the road user is merely
beginning to pay some of the huge externalised costs he/she is
placing on society, and secondly it is obviously much better/fairer
to tax polluting activity than, say, income.
In the longer term, satellite-based road pricing
is much more discriminatingit can tackle road traffic where
it most does damage (ie where it most externalises its costs).
Actually we do not understand why the government sees road pricing
as such a distant prospect (global warming and our failure to
meet our climate commitments are decidedly short term). This can
have nothing to do with the technology as is asserted, since the
technology already existsit is merely a matter of government
Additionally we ought to reduce the speed of
traffic, since firstly this reduces the emissions of a given trip
and secondly, slowing traffic down will increase the time of trips
and through elasticity factors deter a certain fraction of trips
from being made or divert those trips to other more environmental
From the COBA manual assessment of fuel consumption
costs, which directly map to CO2 emissions, we see
that cars minimise their emissions per kilometre if they travel
at 45 mph and large goods vehicles at 40 mph. A simple immediate
measure would be to lower the motorway and dual carriageway maximum
speed to 60 mph and the national maximum speed limit elsewhere
to 50 mph. Provided this was properly policed this would also
have a much-needed additional benefit of reduced accidentswe
consider the Government has done far too little to tackle the
lingering disgrace of road accidents. If road pricing were introduced
speed becomes a factor in pricing and can additionally be used
to prosecute excessive speed.
Action on Climate Change is long overdue. Aviation
is the worst offender, but road transport has to be tackled. This
needs a fundamental reappraisal of our attitudes and policies.
It will require restructuring of the DfT to take on the role of
encouraging sustainable transport policy. We must stop building
new roads and must reduce traffic on existing roads. The polluter
must be made to appreciate the damage he/she is doing.
We must do this quicklythere is no long
term in this. The imperative is urgent. But if it were not for
the dangers of climate change we would have to adjust to a lower
energy world anyway, as a result of the depletion of resources
following Peak Oil. Restructuring our society, rethinking our
priorities towards a more sustainable society now will help us
as this other imperative begins to bite.
Should the Government take its responsibilities
seriously there will no longer be the necessity for an organisation
such as ours or the myriad campaign groups across the country
that we support and that support us. We would enter such oblivion
thankfully and would be able to get on with our lives.
99 Clearly the protection of the profligate aviation
industry is the greatest scandal of climate change, but your press
release precludes discussion of this. Back
General trends of measures are not sensibly correlated, since
unrelated things that happened to increase with time (hamburger
consumption and mobile phone usage for example) would show correlation.
What are sensibly tested for correlations are the fluctuations
on trends-economic growth rate and miles of new road construction
per year are fluctuating quantities-if the fluctuations correlate
then this is prima facie evidence that the quantities are related. Back
It might be argued that the trend of this correlation suggests
a move into the positive after 10 years and thus road building
represents a long-term investment. In fact continuing the graph
to 20 years does show a brief interlude of positive benefit, followed
by a further plunge into the negative; but this is in any case
to push the statistics too far into the noise-correlating over
20 years on 50 years of data is highly suspect. Back