The Dinosaur Department for Transport

A letter to the Secretary of State for Transport

Dear Mr Grayling

I expect that, if the DfT contains competent and professional civil servants, they will have informed you of the following:

  • that significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are necessary to keep climate change below “dangerous and irreversible” levels
  • that local air pollution is thought to lead to 40,000 early deaths per year and the Government’s attempts to address this issue have been repeatedly found inadequate in court
  • that increasing road capacity does not tend to lead to measurable economic growth
  • that increasing road capacity leads to additional traffic
  • that levels of cycling and walking are suppressed due to a lack of safe and convenient cycle routes, in contrast to the situation in many European countries
  • that private cars are a vastly inefficient use of road space and that, therefore, bringing about modal shift to cycling, walking and public transport can benefit all road users
  • that transport demand can be affected by the location and design of new development.

Yet you produce a Transport Investment Strategy which is essentially geared towards spending a great deal of money on increasing the road network for motorised vehicles.

It acknowledges that there has been a 23% increase in traffic since 1993, but only sees this as a justification for increasing road capacity, rather than a pressing indication that modal shift is necessary.

It acknowledges that increased capacity can “make possible new trips that were previously impractical” but does not acknowledge that this increased trip demand leads to an increase in greenhouse gas and local air pollutant emissions, congestion, noise pollution, severance, and so on.

It acknowledges that, while greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors of the economy have decreased substantially since 1990, this has not been the case for transport due to increasing mileage; but the only suggestion to address this is to make “virtually all” vehicles zero-emission by 2050. That is, it makes no commitment to action on climate change for thirty-three years.

It continues to repeat the canard that more roads mean more economic growth.

It completely fails to mention the impact of road-building upon landscape, townscape, societies and habitats.

It barely mentions sustainable transport modes – cycling, walking, and local public transport; from the overall investment in transport, the investment in walking and cycling represents 0.49% of the total.

Its only concern, with regard to new built development, is that there should be sufficient roads to carry newly-generated traffic.

In all, it is a 1980s throwback: a dinosaur document, based on predict-and-provide principles that were proven to be damaging decades ago; ignoring the unpleasant reality of climate change; ignoring the damage that has already been done to our towns, cities and landscape by our excessive reliance on the private car.

And it is a counsel of despair. It ignores the possibility of movement towards a genuinely sustainable transport system, which meets the needs of all people – including the 40% of UK households without access to a car – without killing people through respiratory illnesses, enforced sedentary lifestyles and road traffic accidents; and which limits the UK’s contribution towards climate change.

It would appear that the Magic Money Tree, which proved itself to be fruitful when the Conservatives needed to make up the numbers for a government, is even more fruitful when it is needed to appease the motor lobby – the AA and RAC, who have endorsed this strategy; the latter of which, I note, gift you honorary membership valued at £1,600 per annum.

It is to be hoped that the lifespan of this despicable document is short.

Yours sincerely

Josephine Ellis MRTPI


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