The government has learned nothing from previous attempts to revive major road-building

As expected, the spending review is a very mixed bag for sustainable transport. While some funding for buses has been saved, and already-announced investment in the railways safeguarded, the government made a big play of new roads, setting itself on a collision course with environmental campaigners.

By Andrew Allen of the Campaign for Better Transport

As expected, the spending review is a very mixed bag for sustainable transport. While some funding for buses has been saved, and already-announced investment in the railways safeguarded, the government made a big play of new roads, setting itself on a collision course with environmental campaigners.

On Wednesday, the chancellor announced a 9.3 per cent cut in the Department for Transport’s budget. Railways and Transport for London were fingered to deliver the savings, but there was at least protection for the unsexy but hugely important fuel duty rebate received by bus operators.

Reliance on buses increases as incomes fall, making support for buses highly socially progressive. It helps more people to access jobs, training and education, as well as offering a vital social link for those without cars.

This makes the 10 per cent cut to local authority budgets all the more disappointing. It puts even more pressure on funding for the 1 in 5 local bus services that local authorities support financially. Further loss of services and increases in ticket prices seem inevitable and are hardly the kind of thing that will help people back to work.

Equally concerning are the government’s £28 billion of road-building plans. Road-building on this scale would be at enormous cost to the public purse and our environment. Beyond the named schemes, it is particularly worrying that a new aim of dualling the large proportion of the Highways Agency network has been announced along with a commitment to look again at environmentally disastrous schemes around Stonehenge and within the South Downs National Park.

The government has learned nothing from previous attempts to revive major road-building. Many of these proposals will be fiercely opposed by local people and by anyone who wants a rational transport policy that gives people more choices rather than entrenching car dependency.

High profile and on-going local opposition to road-building has most recently been seen at the proposed Bexhill Hastings Link Road. This will be the site of a national rally against road building on 13 July

To the fury of cycling groups, the Treasury is also shifting money previously allocated to cycling, walking and other sustainable transport to business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships. The fear is that this money will now be used to support yet more road schemes.

There is a final piece of good news in the spending review – the £10 billion allocated for road repairs. However, although this is welcome, it shouldn’t wait till the next parliament: filling in potholes should and could start now, taking precedence over big new roads.

The overwhelming feeling from the spending round is one of concern. Rather than planning new roads, government should be investing to expand our railways, make public transport accessible and affordable to all and ensuring we tackle the enormous backlog of repairs on our existing roads.

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