New roads fail to ease traffic or lift economies, say researchers
Roads built in England have largely failed either to 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 that 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 budget for roadbuilding is due to triple to £3bn annually 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 mile-a-minute journey times. But the CPRE said the research showed that roadbuilding 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 schemes analysed harmed protected landscapes, while attempts to protect rare animals and plants were not always successful.
Shaun Spiers, chief executive of CPRE, said that in announcing the biggest roadbuilding programme since the 1970s, the government had “junked the evidence … saloon bar policymaking won the day.”
Ralph Smyth, head of infrastructure and legal at CPRE, said: “This a programme that will forever fail on its own terms, producing a depressing, selfperpetuating cycle of more and more roads that do little for the economy and harm the countryside.
“This landmark research shows that any benefits from road building are far smaller than thought but the harm much worse. Rather than looking to the past, the government must invest in a forwardlooking 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 … 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.”