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Climate Change Committee calls for road building review

The Institution of Civil Engineers has come out in support of the Climate Change Committee's call for a road building rethink.

The Climate Change Committee, a statutory government advisory body, says that only roads that advance the net zero cause, that get people out of cars rather than make life better or easier for motorists, should be allowed.

The Institution of Civil Engineers, the professional body of the people who designed and built the nation’s road network agree: no more roads.

Technically, the Climate Change Committee’s call is not quite as strict as that but it is hard to see many road building projects passing its test. Certainly not the Lower Thames Crossing or the Stonehenge tunnel, which would make motoring much easier.

In its 438-page 2023 Progress Report to Parliament, published today, the CCC says: “The Welsh government accepted the recommendations of its independent Roads Review, which included cancelling 31 of 48 road projects reviewed (and reconsidering the merit of a further six) on environmental grounds and introducing stringent tests that will only permit new road projects if they will meaningfully contribute to modal shift, reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. This is a welcome step which should contribute to reducing traffic growth.

“At a UK level, various road-building projects have recently been pushed back due to fiscal headwinds. The government should launch a more strategic review (similar to the Welsh Roads Review) to assess whether these projects are consistent with its environmental goals. This should ensure that decisions do not lock in unsustainable levels of traffic growth and develop conditions (which can be included in the Roads Investment Strategy 3 process and beyond) that permit schemes to be taken forward only if they meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of net zero and climate adaptation.

The CCC reports that UK greenhouse gas emissions have so far fallen 46% from 1990 levels. At COP26, a commitment was made to reduce them by 68% by 2030. In the next seven years, therefore, the recent rate of annual emissions reduction outside the electricity supply sector would need to quadruple for that target to be met.

CCC chairman Lord Deben (previously known as John Gummer) said: “The lesson of my 10 years at the Climate Change Committee is that early action benefits the people of this country and helps us to meet the challenges of the coming decades more cheaply and more easily. Yet, even in these times of extraordinary fossil fuel prices, Government has been too slow to embrace cleaner, cheaper alternatives and too keen to support new production of coal, oil and gas. There is a worrying hesitancy by ministers to lead the country to the next stage of net zero commitments.

"I urge the government to regroup on net zero and commit to bolder delivery. This is a period when pace must be prioritised over perfection.”

Institution of Civil Engineers director of policy Chris Richards backed the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations and criticism of government.

“The government seems to view net zero decisions as unviable expenditure because of the cost-of-living crisis, but in the long run, putting off investment in the transition to net zero will cost the public and businesses more, while delaying the financial benefits of a net zero system that will be cheaper to run,” he said.

“Infrastructure professionals are keen to be part of the solution. They’re leading the way by creating new industry standards for managing carbon in the built environment, and suggesting more joined-up, strategic decision making across the sector.”

Less surprisingly, there is also support for the CCC from the anti-roads lobby.

Transport Action Network director Chris Todd said: “We welcome the climate committee’s call for an urgent review of England’s roads programme. Having spent the last three years challenging the roads programme in the courts, we feel vindicated.

“The government’s position that it can continue with a huge roads programme while meeting climate targets has become completely untenable. It’s time for a roads reset. We need all investment to be taking us towards net zero, not making it harder to achieve by increasing traffic, concrete and congestion.”

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