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The Environmental Impact of Britain’s New Roads

The Environmental Impact of Britain’s New Roads
August 25, 2020 Mike Watson

Background

The UK Government has announced massive new spending on roads to help boost and grow the UK’s economy. This investment could result in increased carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the country meeting its climate change targets. In this article we look at the claims and counter claims being made.

Down Factors

There are a number of factors that mean that emissions from domestic transport will go down over time. These are:

  • Road vehicles are becoming lighter and more efficient thus using less energy per mile travelled
  • Petrol and Diesel vehicles are being replaced with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles
  • Government policies encourage walking, cycling and public transport whilst sometimes discouraging road transport.

Up Factors

There are a number of factors that drive emissions up. These are:

  • Road construction causes large emissions due to the volume of steel and concrete required.
  • New roads require the felling of trees which absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Cars go faster on newer roads emitting more than they would have done on older roads.
  • New roads result in more traffic which means more emissions.

The question is do the ‘Down Factors’ outweigh the ‘Up Factors’ and does everyone agree?

Agreed Impact

Everyone agrees that the new roads will result in an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Planning

Within the planning process each road scheme is assessed on a case by case basis with the general argument being that each scheme will increase emissions – with that increase being insignificant when viewed in the context of Britain’s overall emissions.


Figure 1 Image from Transport for Quality of Life

Environmental Groups

Environmental Groups argue that the government should be looking at the overall impact of all schemes against the overall requirement to meet our climate change targets. They have taken a combined view and have determined that:

  • The overall increase in traffic from the new schemes has been underestimated
  • Domestic transport emissions need to be going down – not up
  • The government appears to have no policy or strategy for getting emissions from domestic transport down to where they need to be.

Our View

New roads are popular with the people that use them and no-one likes to be told to drive less. Nevertheless the government’s current policies are not going to get the country to where it needs to be.

Furthermore the Covid crisis has clearly demonstrated that the economy can function with a lot less transport activity.

Whilst unpopular with road users the new roads programme is bad for the environment and there are probably better ways of stimulating the economy.

About Pager Power

Pager Power helps renewable energy developers resolve technical planning issues. For more information please get in touch.

References

https://www.transportforqualityoflife.com/u/files/The%20carbon%20impact%20of%20the%20national%20roads%20programme%20FINAL.pdf

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