Does Transport Secretary revelation scupper plans for Lower Thames Crossing?

Lower Thames Crossing… where do we go now?

Campaigners against the building of the Lower Thames Crossing between Kent and Essex have been encouraged by the news that the Secretary of State for Transport ignored the advice of his own officers in refusing to review the government’s road policy.   
The Guardian’s front-page story revealed how Grant Shapps had dismissed the advice from civil servants that the policy should have been reviewed on environmental grounds.
The newspaper says: “It has been a legal requirement to take into account the environmental impact of such [road] projects since 2014. Shapps appears to have pressed ahead despite the advice of civil servants in his own department.”
It suggests that the £27 billion expansion of England’s road network – described by Chancellor Rishi Sunak a year ago as the country’s “largest ever” roadbuilding programme – “has been thrown into doubt” by the revelation.
It came as Transport Action Network sought a judicial review of the strategy to develop such road projects as the Lower Thames Crossing, the Stonehenge tunnel and the A46 Newark bypass.
The Guardian says evidence that Mr Shapps had overridden Whitehall advice was disclosed only “at the 11th hour to the claimants” in the High Court case. That advice had been to review the 2014 National Policy Statement on national networks.
The TAN claim centres on the decision not to review all or part of the NPS and has now been amended to introduce Shapps’s decision to dismiss the civil servants’ advice; this runs alongside the original grounds that the roadbuilding policy was not compatible with commitments to the environment and air quality.
David Wolfe QC states in his submission: “On the day before the limitation period for issuing this challenge was due to expire, the defendant [Mr Shapps] provided the claimant [Transport Action Network] with the advice of his officials, which was that it was appropriate to review the NPS.”
He adds: “The claimants have been presented, on the one hand, with official reasoning in support of a review, and on the other, with a decision by the defendant not to review the NPS, with no explanation of why, or on the basis of what information or considerations, he chose to depart from his officials’ advice.”
Government lawyers, however, claim Mr Shapps has no duty to give reasons for his decision and that the claim is baseless.
Chris Todd, Transport Action Network director, said: “The largest-ever roads programme and world-leading emissions cuts were always the strangest of bedfellows.
“Far from ‘building back better’, the government’s £27bn roads plan would pollute communities, tear through treasured green spaces and turn up the heat on the planet, while making congestion worse. Our legal challenge seeks to end this nightmare and prioritise what’s important to people.”

  • To read about the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, see here

Monday, March 8, 2021

The end of the road?

CPRE Kent  has long argued that increased road building in fact leads to increased traffic, does not reduce journey times and does not bring the promised economic growth to areas. Plus it can destroy beautiful areas of countryside.

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Traffic by Jon Coller

New research published by CPRE today (March 20th) reveals that road-building is failing to provide the congestion relief and economic boost promised, while devastating the environment [1].

No wonder we are so concerned at the wisdom of potentially spending £3billion on a new Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend which would have a terrible economic impact and not solve the problem of congestion at the Dartford crossings.

The research, the largest ever independent review of completed road schemes in England, arrives as Highways England starts consulting on which road schemes will receive funding, set to triple to £3 billion a year by 2020 [2].

Drawing on the research, CPRE’s report The end of the road? directly challenges government claims that ‘the economic gains from road investment are beyond doubt’ [3]; that road-building will lead to ‘mile a minute’ journeys; and that the impact on the environment will be limited ‘as far as possible’ [4]. The report shows how road building over the past two decades has repeatedly failed to live up to similar aims. Continue reading