Road Wars - SQUALL'S road protest round up and down the country
Policy Shift Or Shifty Policy?
Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995, pg. 16.
Last year saw the government starting to reconsider its road-building programme, with public opinion swinging away from tarmac and towards the environment.
The catalytic conversion of government policy has been further induced by the publication of two major reports. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report, published last October, stated what every one already knew; that car pollution is bad for our health. The second, and even more damning report was from the Transport Department’s Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (Sactra), published in December.
The Secretary of State for Transport, Brian Mawhinney, has unveiled plans to reduce this years’ spending on roads from £2 to £1.7 billion. Environmental groups have heralded this as a long overdue concession to a growing public concern.
British motorists drive the highest yearly car mileage in Europe, while public transport usage is one of the lowest. Of course, this fact cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the British public as it has been the subject of much ‘political encouragement’. It was Thatcher herself who, in the early eighties, coined the phrase “the great car economy”, as one of her ‘visions’ of a future Britain.
Public transport is a fundamental component of British infrastructure and suffers as an affordable, accessible system of transport, when left to the private sector. Already, public investment in rail transport in Britain is amongst the lowest in Europe.
Moreover, the streamlining (cutbacks) and fragmentation of the rail network into bite sized portions in preparation for rail privatisation, will make it difficult for future planners to co-ordinate expansions in the system. This is aside from making it more difficult and expensive for the public to travel by rail.
The most condemning aspect of the Sactra report is the conclusion that building more roads does not alleviate transport congestion but, in many cases, seriously exacerbates the problem by encouraging more car use.
The findings of the 242 page report were made available to erstwhile transport minister, John MacGregor, in May 1994. His decision to shelve the report may be attributed to his staunch defence of the £2 billion-a-year programme and has angered many environmental campaigners who believe that its findings could have influenced the many public enquiries into road developments that have taken place since then.
Mr MacGregor’s departure from the transport post, and Dr Mawhinney’s installation last Autumn, would seem to have been in preparation for such an apparent change in Government policy. Indeed, Dr Mawhinney is keen to stress his ‘green credentials’ and is reported to be setting up an environmental policy unit in order to co-ordinate the environmental assessment and planning of the road building programme. The new unit is billed as being accessible to anti-roads campaigners, environmental groups, statutory bodies and other lobbying groups; time, of course, will tell on that score. An announcement is expected in February or March.
The DoT still has a large portion of its initially planned ten-year, £23 billion commitment to road projects yet to spend. The shelving of a few of the more visibly embarrassing projects cannot be claimed as proving the new transport minister’s ‘green credentials’. The consciousness of Britain has been woken up to the environmental destruction caused by more roads through the dedicated efforts of anti- roads campaigners. But there is a very real danger that the converted middle Englanders will be swiftly anaesthetised once more by false promises coming from a Government, highly dependant on the road lobby, and an economy highly dependant on the motor industry.
Road Wars - SQUALL's road protest round up and down the country - other stories from this issue - No M77 battle hots up in Scotland - 'free state of Pollok' / A30 Honiton-Exeter on the back burner / The Third Battle of Newbury pitched against vested interests / No M65 Campaign - Up in the air and facing the flak.
For a menu of many other Squall articles about the Anti-Roads Movement, including protest camps, Reclaim The Streets and more click here