We don’t need Osborne’s ‘roads revolution’ – we need a green revolution

Osborne is either is a climate change denier, an idiot, or a sadist. Either way, it will be future generations that will get hurt by this budget’s moves against the planet.

 Osborne is either is a climate change denier, an idiot, or a sadist. Either way, it will be future generations that will get hurt by this budget’s moves against the planet

It’s possibly the worst time Osborne could have announced his plan for £15bn of spending on new roads.

Why? Because this week, international climate change negotiations are taking place in Lima to set the stage for next year’s pivotal Conference of the Parties (CoP21) in Paris – potentially our last hope for sticking to the IPCC’s two degree warmer world.

But let’s be clear. There’s no way we can stick to that commitment if the RAC’s estimates of seven million more cars on the road by 2030 proves correct. If it does, it will be the government’s doing after this week’s announcement.

£15bn is a lot of money. With it, the government will fund 84 new schemes that will plough through English land to create 1,300 miles of new lanes.

Osborne said it would ‘transform some of the country’s most important strategic routes’ – and it certainly will, particularly when it rips through countryside and promotes further greenhouse gas emissions, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England have pointed out.

Coupled with the continued freeze on fossil fuel duty over investment in renewables, it’s a disaster for the environment.

These plans were published in the government’s first ever comprehensive ‘Road investment strategy’. Where’s the strategy to comprehensively green the transport sector?

The European Transport Workers Federation note that across the continent, a clear plan to reduce transport emissions by 80 per cent would create seven million new jobs. That would include tens or even hundreds of thousands in the UK. Yet the Conservatives’ heads remain firmly in the sand – no doubt partly because of the surge of a climate-sceptic UKIP.

Unbelievably, the government have even taken to boasting about the increase in car and lorry journeys – putting out infographics that will make people choke on their coffee (if there’s any still able to be grown) in a generation’s time.

It’s encouraging however, in some ways, to see the launch of a new National Infrastructure Plan. The problem is that, in Osborne’s own words, it will focus on ” roads, railways, airport capacity, power stations, waste facilities, broadband networks.”

Just about the only thing worth cheering here is railway investment, though having just sold off the successful East Coast franchise, it’s hard to see how this will be coordinated.

Of course, spread over five years, these disruptions will ironically just mean years of road-works chaos for drivers.

It will be done with money that should be being used to fund a reversal of slashed bus services in rural areas, a massive rollout and extension of tram and metro systems in cities outside London, and a cycling revolution that would localise travel and cut down the shocking levels of air pollution that are emerging in Britain.

Even more revealing is the reaction of the government’s so-called opponents. Labour challenged the government not on the principle of the need to move away from cars as a form of transport, instead focusing on the claim that the investment was from previously-announced ‘old money’.

Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: “If ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists”.

Meanwhile the TUC, disappointingly given their commitment to ‘Climate Jobs’, appeared to half-back the plans, indeed calling for more road spending: “£15bn sounds a lot, but is it?”

It was left, instead, to the Green Party to call out the plans, describing them as ‘short-sighted and retrograde,’ with local transport spokesperson Caroline Russell arguing:

“If the government is serious about creating jobs and supporting a sustainable economy they should be seizing the huge opportunities available from investing in new, less carbon-intensive transport technologies and looking to reduce our need to travel by car.”

Caroline Lucas also weighed in: “Instead of scrapping air passenger duty for children, the chancellor should be protecting children with urgent action on climate change.”

There was plenty more to be angry about – broader austerity being the obvious one – but the chancellor froze fuel duty, cut flight taxes and gave a £94m tax cut to oil companies drilling in the North Sea – enough to put a solar panel on every school in the UK twice over.

Ellie Mae O’Hagen of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies put it best:

So Osborne is either is a climate change denier, an idiot, or a sadist. Either way, it will be future generations that will get hurt by this budget’s moves against the planet.

This statement took us back to Thatcher’s folly of the ‘80s, before we knew the full extent of climate change. It was stupid back then. Now, it just looks vindictive.

Josiah Mortimer is a co-editor for the progressive political site Bright Green. Follow him on Twitter

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9 Responses to “We don’t need Osborne’s ‘roads revolution’ – we need a green revolution”

  1. JoeDM

    More “green crap”.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    Stop dumping on the table then.

    In fact, *unlike* airports, there is plenty of well-evidenced studies about the folly of this kind of road building.

  3. Leon Wolfeson


    So you call these a problem; ” roads, railways, airport capacity, power stations, waste facilities, broadband networks.”

    Now, plenty of solid evidence against this sort of road building.

    Railways, though – why? It’s a low-emissions form of travel.
    Airports – Let’s discuss that in it’s own article.
    Why are you against power generation?
    What’s wrong with processing sewage safely?
    And why on *earth* are you opposing the broadband networks which reduce the need for travel in the first place?

  4. swat

    Unfortuantely we do. Roads are here to stay to get us from A to B, with the minimum of fuss, for business or leisure. Unfortunately they are not fit for the purpose especially the Motorways and the major A Roads. and our very local streets are potholed. Remember public transport has also to travel down roads as do National Express and Private Coaches as well as the 4×4’s. Its a disgrace that our roads are not maintained and yet we spend millions on a useless vanity project like Trident.

  5. Cathy Gallagher

    No problem with broadband, trains, but cars, planes? Dreadful thought. Why doesn’t Osborne put them up in Manchester as he’s so fond of the place?

  6. MrHowie

    ‘So Osborne is either is a climate change denier, an idiot, or a sadist’ All three I would say.

  7. burttthebike

    But don’t forget that this government is investing heavily in sustainable transport, £214 million for the “cycling revolution”. Yes, that is millions not billions. Still, it’s difficult to invest in sustainable, healthy, non-polluting transport when you’re spending all the real money on roads, £15billion, and HS2, £30 billion. Of course just because all your policies say you should doesn’t mean you really should. Or the fact that investment into cycling really is investment, with a very large return, whereas spending on roads and HS2 has no visible payback at all.

  8. Rupert

    With fuel prices much lower, it would be an ideal time to increase fuel duty. A 10 pence rise would not even bring the price back to where it was in the summer. Sadly no politician, not even the Greens, have proposed this. If politicians are so worried about the public reaction there are three things they can do. 1. Make it a one off for one year only or 2. Bring down the duty as soon as fuel prices have come back up to the level of the summer or 3. Set out that they will spend the money only on two things, a, local roads with proper facilities for cyclists and pedestrians and b, reducing the deficit.

  9. madasafish

    Kiss of death..

    Even Labour can see that.

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