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Subject: Road Block e-bulletin - 29 Jan 08
Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2008 14:12:15 +0000

Road Block E-bulletin, January 2008


2008 is going to be a very important year for anti-roadbuilding campaigning. The Government is considering a new alternative to motorway widening, and planning to produce a Sustainable Transport White Paper by the end of the year.

These are potentially exciting developments, but meanwhile the roadbuilding programme ploughs ahead and the pro-roads lobby is on the offensive.

I'm Rebecca Lush Blum and I run Road Block, an alliance of community groups opposing road schemes as part of Campaign for Better Transport. We're fighting to ensure that rather than just spreading warm words about sustainable alternatives to roadbuilding, the Government halts disastrous road schemes around the country.

Rebecca Lush Blum


What you can do: quick online actions

Tell the Transport Secretary you want better public transport, not more roads
Ask your MP to protect the Peak District National Park
Demand the Government consider alternatives to widening the M25
Help save a rail line, which could eliminate the need for a damaging new road


National news

Motorway widening to be scrapped?

The Government could possibly scrap most of the motorway widening programme, in favour of Active Traffic Management (or ATM: opening the hard shoulder to vehicles, with 50mph limits to keep pollution, accidents and CO2 emissions down). This would be a massive victory for the spirited campaigners fighting the widening of the M1 and M6.

In October the Government announced that the trial of ATM on the M42 was a great success. It now plans a feasibility study into rolling it out nationally, including as an alternative to large and expensive widening schemes. However, we exposed in the Guardian that the DfT is excluding the M25 from this feasibility study. The M25 is a huge £5 billion PFI contract and will result in more traffic, noise, pollution and carbon emissions. We don't understand why this scheme is not being considered for ATM too.

Demand the Government include the M25 in its national feasibility study into ATM

Roads costs under review

Since the Nichols review was published in March last year, all Highways Agency road scheme costs are under review. The full results won't be published until the spring, but some early results show how costs escalate wildly: the cost of one scheme in the South East rose from £40 million to £103 million!

Road Block and Campaign for Better Transport have worked hard to highlight this issue, and we'll continue to reveal how roadbuilding represents very bad value for money for the taxpayer, as well as harming the environment.

We are also heavily involved in the Department for Transport's review of how transport investment decisions are made. The current NATA system is heavily biased towards roads, and away from sustainable transport. Watch this space...

Roads lobby on the march

The roads lobby has been on the offensive recently: the RAC Foundation published a report in November calling for a new roadbuilding programme, even larger than that of the 1990s. The report claimed that the programme could be paid for with money raised from road pricing.

Campaign for Better Transport knew that this suggestion would be unpopular. We commissioned a YouGov poll that showed an overwhelming 62% of people wanted Government to spend money on public transport, whilst only 30% voted for roadbuilding.

Meanwhile in January the right-of-centre think-tank Policy Exchange called for private money to be used to fund a new roadbuilding programme.

All this road lobby activity shows our campaign is gaining ground.

Fuel protest flop

On 1 April the Chancellor will put 2p onto the rate of fuel duty, to keep it in line with inflation. Despite the failure of the fuel protests planned for 15 December, many of which were abandoned when nobody showed up, the motorist lobby is demanding that the fuel duty rise be scrapped.

Fuel duty has not increased in line with inflation since the Government disastrously backed down to the fuel lobby in 2000. The real cost of motoring has fallen as a result, while the cost of using public transport has gone up. Even with this April's increase, fuel duty rates will still remain 11 per cent lower in real terms than they were in 1999.

Campaign for Better Transport has been working hard to cut through the many myths that surround the price of fuel, and has produced a fuel facts briefing. These facts might be useful to you when writing letters to your local media.

'Towards a sustainable transport system' anyone?

The Department for Transport published a command paper in October entitled 'Towards a Sustainable Transport System'. This was the Government's response to the Stern and Eddington reports; a Green Paper is proposed for summer 2008, with a White Paper due in December.

The paper included a telling paragraph that you may wish to use in your roads campaigning. It said that roads do not necessarily help the economy: "There are some important messages in the Eddington study about not exaggerating transport's ability to stimulate job creation. Unless adequacy of skills and other issues are properly addressed, improved transport connections could as easily suck employment from an area as create new jobs in it." (Towards a Sustainable Transport System, paragraph 2.79)

Roads programme? What roads programme?

Ever noticed how there is literally no information on the DfT's website about its road programmes? This is despite the programmes costing taxpayers £13 billion, and leading to a large increase in carbon emissions! Campaign for Better Transport has been asking the DfT to be transparent and publish clear information on the costs and environmental impact of the roads programmes since last July. However, seven months on we have received only excuses, refusals and missed deadlines. Luckily the Liberal Democrats' Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker MP, and Gwyneth Dunwoody, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, are raising this lack of transparency in the House of Commons and within the DfT.

The Highways Agency also fails to publish clear information about its roads programme, including latest costs. In a recent letter to me the Agency claimed that to publish this information would "not be helpful, in the wider public interest"! (See my blog of 17 January)


Local campaign updates

Mottram-Tintwistle Bypass inquiry adjourned indefinitely

The public inquiry into the Mottram-Tintwistle Bypass through the Peak District National Park opened in June 2007, but has since been adjourned four times. At the last hearing in December, the Highways Agency admitted that due to serious errors in its evidence, all evidence submitted to the inquiry should be disregarded. The Inspector adjourned the inquiry indefinitely, and it is unlikely to resume before May.

A Freedom of Information request (PDF) revealed that the Highways Agency has so far spent £13.7 million on consultancy, legal, and staff costs, of which £4 million has been spent on the inquiry. The estimated cost of the scheme is £184 million, but with increasing consultants' costs and claims for compensation from objectors, this figure is set to rise.

Ask your MP to demand that the inquiry be abandoned and alternatives to this disastrous road investigated

Save the Woodhead Tunnel

An alternative to building the Mottram-Tintwistle Bypass would be to reopen the trans-Pennine rail link, which includes the Woodhead Tunnel. However this valuable asset could soon be lost forever.

Despite only being built in 1953, the trans-Pennine rail link was mothballed in 1981. It now urgently needs to be reopened to relieve a heavily congested rail corridor between Manchester and Sheffield. However National Grid owns the tunnel, and wants to transfer electricity cables from crumbling Victorian tunnels into the modern 1953 tunnel. Only the modern tunnel is suitable for rail use, and National Grid admits that putting cabling inside would prevent the line from ever being reopened.

The campaign to save the Woodhead Tunnel is growing rapidly. A big demonstration was held at the tunnel earlier this month, and the Northern Way, a coalition of Northern Regional Development Agencies, has joined in the call for the line to be protected.

Ask your MP to sign a parliamentary petition calling for the tunnel to be protected for rail use

Success on the Isle of Wight

Plucky residents fighting a new road at Undercliff Drive, Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight have won, as the council withdrew the road amidst a corruption scandal. The contract to build the road was awarded with no competitive tendering process, and the ensuing inquiry and police investigation resulted in the suspension of seven council officers, including the deputy chief executive, followed by sackings, a resignation and an early retirement. Eventually the council agreed to scrap the road in November. If residents had not delayed the scheme with a High Court challenge the corruption scandal may never have been revealed.

Stonehenge saved from dual carriageway

In December the Government finally scrapped plans for a new and very controversial dual carriageway through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Instead they plan to implement small-scale improvements to existing roads, and possibly close the A344 which runs right through the stone complex. This is what Campaign for Better Transport has been calling for for years.

M74 anti-competition complaint to EC

A complaint has been lodged at the EC about the fact that only one consortium bid for the huge M74 contract in Scotland. This situation could have broken two European Directives on competitive tendering: one bidder is hardly a competition! The consortium of Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction and Sir Robert McAlpine put in its final bid in November, and Transport Scotland has until 7 February to make a decision on whether to award the contract and face a prosecution, or to put the contract back out for competitive tendering. In 2003 the scheme was priced at £500 million; it is expected to cost nearer to £750-1000 million now.

Aberdeen Bypass: information emerges

Campaigners at Road Sense have won a two-year battle to access documents that passed between civil servants and ministers in the weeks leading up to the decision to route the proposed Aberdeen Bypass along a new 'hybrid' route that had not been part of the previous public consultation. The Scottish Information Commissioner ruled that Transport Scotland was wrong to refuse the group access to the documents, which proved explosive. Apparently, according to some media reports they showed the transport minister had met with a group backed by a major Liberal Democrat party donor, just before a decision was made to drop a route that passed right by his house! Also, the documents revealed that there was little cost-benefit analysis, and no up-to-date costing of the route.

A14 contract awarded

The contract to build the largest trunk road scheme in England has been awarded to Costain-Skanska, although the battle is far from over! The scheme still has to go to public inquiry, and campaigners from the Offords A14 Action Group have already proved themselves worthy opponents when they won against the Highways Agency at the Court of Appeal over the lack of consultation.

The A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton around Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire would cost over 700 million, increase traffic and carbon emissions, and devastate tranquil countryside and villages. The problem with the A14 is road freight coming out of Felixstowe port, destined for the M1. However Freight on Rail says that the Government should not waste £700m on the A14, and should instead invest it in massive capacity increases on the congested parallel rail freight corridor. This would be the low-carbon answer.

Shropshire uses Government's road pricing fund to progress road plans

The DfT's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) is designed to help local councils study local road pricing schemes. But Shropshire County Council took an initial investment of TIF money, knowing there was no political support locally for road pricing, and used it to progress old plans for a massive new road, the North West Relief Road.

The Council had planned to apply for more TIF money to build the road, but in December voted to abandon the bid. It now aims to find funding for the road through the normal Regional Funding Allocation (RFA) procedure but this has little chance of success as the scheme will be in competition with other schemes, most of which are in areas with much worse traffic problems.

Councils are using TIF money to progress controversial road schemes in Durham and Norwich too (read my blog of 5 December).

Westbury inquiry to start in May

The public inquiry into the Westbury Bypass has been scheduled for May, after the Government called it in for a decision. However the inquiry into the regional plan concluded that the transport needs of the whole area need to be studied. So White Horse Alliance campaigners have written to planning minister, Hazel Blears, asking for the inquiry to be delayed until this study has happened.

Weymouth inquiry result awaited

The public inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) for the Weymouth Relief Road opened in October. The inspector decided that the inquiry should also examine the 'need' for the road; this was very welcome and countered the failure of the Government to call a full public inquiry. The inspector's report will probably be published in March.

The road would cross in a deep cutting through the Dorset Ridgeway in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and damage Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Ancient Woodland. Research by Transport Research Laboratory and Steer Davies Gleave has shown the road would actually increase congestion in Weymouth, and would increase carbon emissions. Find out more about the campaign against the road

Partial victory at Derby

In April and May a public inquiry was held into the CPOs that are required if the 'Connecting Derby' road scheme is to be built. The Inspector's report (PDF) was expected in October, but publication was delayed until December. Local residents in the DerbyHEART group won a partial victory in that the most damaging part of the road in a conservation area was rejected. Sadly the part that damages local people's lives was given the go-ahead.

Part of the route of the proposed road goes across land that has been used by local people for dog walking and picnicking for over 20 years and they are trying to have it designated a village green. A public inquiry into a village green application was held in December; the application was fiercely opposed by Derby City Council. The inspector from the CPO inquiry made strong comments about how the council's road plans do not adequately deal with this loss of green open space.

Kingskerswell Bypass: alternatives presented

Dorset County Council finally submitted its funding bid for the South Devon Link Road (Kingskerswell Bypass) to the DfT on Christmas Eve! The local campaign group, Kingskerswell Alliance, was hot on the Council's tail, promptly sending in its excellent alternatives report, 'Kingskerswell, an enlightened approach to solving traffic congestion'. The DfT has instructed Devon County Council to respond to the group's report. The group has also instructed its own consultants (funded by the Manuka Club and Lush cosmetics) to pick apart the economic and traffic case for the road. Meanwhile the council has published CPOs for the scheme, but bungled the publicity for exhibitions. Many villagers who would overlook the new road were not leafleted, and the Parish Council were not informed of the exhibitions!

Roads in the South West:
Westbury Bypass, Bristol Link Road, Weymouth Relief Road, Kingskerswell Bypass

The panel report for the inquiry into the South West Regional Plan was published earlier this month. Unfortunately it concluded that the South Bristol Link Road and the Weymouth Relief Road should be retained in the plan. However the report recommended an area-wide study into the transport needs for the Westbury area. It did not recommend the Kingskerswell Bypass, but instead recommended that "the project needs to be evaluated against the other transportation needs of the area". It also did not support upgrading the A303 or A358, known as the 'second strategic route'.

Norwich Northern Distributor Road delayed

After pressure from the Norwich No N25 Campaign, Norfolk County Council transportation department are under investigation by their own officers over their attempt to award the contract to build the Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) without putting it out to competitive tender. The Department for Transport, on the advice of its lawyers, demanded competitive tendering. This has caused a serious delay to the scheme.

This planned road is inextricably bound up with plans for lots of new housing and business development. The housing plans are currently being consulted on.

Visit the No N25 Campaign website to object to the plans

What Campaign for Better Transport is doing to help local road campaigners

Throughout all these developments, we've been supporting local campaigning groups in their inspiring, creative, determined efforts to halt damaging road schemes.

* We've produced a new online guide to stopping a road
* We held the third successful Road Block conference. Check out the resources page where you'll find useful documents from the day, or look at photos from the event
* We've created web pages for road campaigning groups around the country, including interviews with successful campaigners and short videos highlighting key battles. To add your group, contact

With your help, we can do even more to help local campaigners. Please consider supporting us today.


Rebecca Lush Blum
Roads and climate change campaigner
Campaign for Better Transport
To find out more about our work, sign up to our campaigns e-bulletin.

P.S. The best way to keep up-to-date on roads news and all the latest gossip is to read my regular blog.

Campaign for Better Transport
12-18 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NG

Campaign for Better Transport is two separate organisations: Campaign for Better Transport Limited is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales (1512347). Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales (4943428).

road protests (current)   |   movement links