Last week, ahead of the Prime Minister's speech to the CBI, the Department for Transport and Highways Agency were quietly dropping greener options from their studies of improvements to major roads.
In plans trailed by the Prime Minister today, details of a major roads programme to be confirmed in the Autumn Statement on 3 December are now expected to include new roads and dual carriageways within the Peak District and South Downs National Parks, a number of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site..
Green credentials 'thrown out'
Commenting on the prospect of 100 new road-building schemes across the Highways Agency network, and the news that UK coal power plants will be kept open for longer, our campaigner Chris Todd told the Independent:
"The Government is tearing up its green credentials and throwing them out of the window. On the same day it announces a massive road-building programme, we also discover that dirty coal plants are going to be staying open for longer."
Chris Todd, Campaign for Better Transport
Local and regional transport campaigners, and representatives from groups supporting National Parks, have been attending Department for Transport 'stakeholder reference group' meetings on the six major feasibility studies since early this year.
These groups have asked for protection of precious landscapes to be a priority and put forward proposals for less damaging ways to reduce congestion and road safety problems, including a lorry ban within the Peak District and a range of rail and other measures on the South Coast.
However, at last week's meetings, the Department for Transport revealed which options it was considering for further development, leaving only what they considered 'better performing options' on the table. The options taken forward (and some better alternatives that are being dropped) are listed below, and it's clear that what's coming in December's announcement is a major new roads programme.
The level of spending planned (the Highways Agency will have more than £15 billion for new projects up to 2021 – a tripling of its current budget) and the revival of schemes in areas that had previously been protected, means we are now facing destruction on the kind of scale last proposed in the 1990s by the Thatcher government's infamous 'Roads for Prosperity' programme.
Stonehenge campaigners challenge National Trust
Along with the A27 in the South Downs National Park and routes across the Peak District, the A303 at Stonehenge is at the forefront of the new controversy. Plans for a short tunnel south of the monument, along with huge damage to the wider World Heritage Site were dropped in 2007 because of the impact and cost. However, the National Trust and English Heritage appear to have agreed that a 2.5-2.9 km road tunnel under Stonehenge would be acceptable, even though this would result in over 1.6 km of new dual carriageway being built within the World Heritage Site itself.
On Saturday, the National Trust held their Annual General Meeting at the Steam Museum in Swindon. As part of a campaign to urge 'no compromise' on the length of the tunnel required to protect the whole Site, members of the Stonehenge Alliance picketed the meeting with leaflets aimed at members of the National Trust, raising awareness of the organisation's position on Stonehenge and urging them to help change their stance.
Two members of the Alliance, Kate Fielden and Kate Freeman challenged the decision during 'members question time' and you can watch the webcast here (at 48 mins and 1h 3 mins into the recording).
A 38 Degrees petition started by the Stonehenge Alliance calling for no compromise on at least a 4.5km tunnel under Stonehenge if the Government is to expand the A303, has already reached nearly 3,000 signatures in less than a fortnight.
Details of the Feasibility Study 'better performing options' revealed at the November 2014 meetings:
Along with 'route strategies' covering the whole Highways Agency network, six major 'feasibility studies' have been carried out by the Department for Transport. At least twenty-five firm proposals for major schemes are now emerging from this process.
- Package 1 – Bypass of Mottram-Tintwistle
- Package 2 – M57-A57 Mottram Moor Link Road
- Package 3 – A57 Mottram One Way
- Package 4 – A61 Dualling (ie. from Westwood to M1 at Tankersley)
Not considered: a package of demand management measures on the TransPennine routes, including a lorry ban in the Peak District National Park (HGVs would use the M62 instead). The DfT admitted themselves that the traffic model they used for the TransPennine study was not robust and only allowed them to take the most superficial look at some of the options. It is believed that the idea of an area-wide lorry ban which was tabled by one of the UK's top transport consultants on behalf of Friends of the Peak District was not modelled. The group has also written to the Chancellor about these lapses.
- Option A – Offline ‘old’ Pink / Blue route
- Option B – Offline avoiding National Park
Not favoured: Option E – Minor online and sustainable transport improvements
- Option A – maximum tunnelling (but unlikely to be pursued because of the cost and poor value for money)
- Option F – online dualling
- Option G – online localised widening and junction improvements
Not favoured: Option H – public transport only
Lewes – Polegate:
- Option A – dual offline
- Option B – single offline
- Option C – bypass at Selmeston
- Option D – bypass at Wilmington to Cophall roundabout
- Option E – Folkington link
Not favoured: Option F – Minor online and sustainable transport
Local campaigns have come together under the banner of South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment (SCATE) to press for a wide range of better options to be considered, including demand management measures such as workplace travel plans.
A303, A30 and A358 study
The argument is that the road improvements being discussed will reduce the (already very low by national standards) accident record and improve traffic flows. There is an implicit assumption that a dual carriageway route will be better for economic growth, despite no evaluation of the severance that it will bring to the rural communities to the north and south of the route, and despite any calculations for induced traffic. The focus is thus upon the five sections where there is single carriageway operation.
A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down: (the Stonehenge section)
The proposals all include a Winterborne Stoke bypass to the north of the village
- Tunnels of 2.5 km (cost £0.79 to £1.2 billion) and 2.9 km (£0.9 to £1.3 billion) have been endorsed by the National Trust and English Heritage as compatible with their 'vision' for the World Heritage Site, despite including new dual carriageway sections within the site.
- A 4.5 km tunnel that would protect the WHS from new road-building on the surface has also been costed at £1.1 to £1.8 billion
Not favoured: a northern route on the surface through the World Heritage Site.
All these options would increase traffic, with growth up to 11% up to 2021
Chicklade to Mere:
A bypass for Chickade would go through the Cranborne Chase AONB. The statement was made that there would be a “low impact of the dual carriageway section on the AONB” but this impact not costed.
A303 Sparkford to Ilchester:
- Package includes a combination of off- and online widening, including grade separated junctions. A new section of dual carriageway would be built between existing sections. No detailed route yet proposed. Cartgate junction to be grade separated.
A303 South Petherton to Southfields:
- A package of online dualling projects including bridge widening and a grade separated interchange at Southfield roundabout (but as yet not costed). New sections of dual carriageway would link currently dualled sections to create uninterrupted dualling, mainly online.
Southfields to Honiton:
Three options are being considered:
- A303/A30 through the Blackdown Hills AONB proposed improvements to the three sections Honiton to Roughridge Hill, Roughridge Hill to Stopgate Cross and Eagle Tavern to Broadway, with part on- part offline widening to put overtaking lanes in place and increase end to end speeds.
- Dualling of the A358
- A combination of the above options
The only proposals to have a high Value for Money rating of all these five sections were the A358 dualling and the Stonehenge tunnel – although many of the wider environmental implications of this proposal were not monetised.
The Stonehenge Alliance (which is supported by the Ancient Sacred Landscape Network, Campaign for Better Transport, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, and archaeology society RESCUE) is campaigning for no compromise on a longer tunnel for Stonehenge if the A303 works go ahead. Their petition: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-stonehenge-world-heritage-site
- Dualling Between A1 and Sutton (West of Peterborough)
- A47/A141 Guyhirn and Wisbech Bypass junction enlargement
- Dualling from North Tuddenham to Easton
- A bypass of the A11 Thickthorn Interchange - various bypass options costing between £67m - £103m are being considered despite being rated ‘Poor Value for Money’.
- Dualling from Blofield to Burlingham
- Safety improvements on Acle Straight (option does not consider full dualling for this section within the Norfolk Broads).
Great Yarmouth A47:
- A47/A12 Asda Junction improvements
- A47/A12 Junction upgrades at Vauxhall Roundabout
- Lowestoft to Great Yarmouth: roundabout signalisations and changes to junctions at Great Yarmouth Bridge Road and James Paget junction.
- A12 Gapton roundabout – signalisation
- A12 Harfreys roundabout upgrade
- A12 Bridge Road
- A12 James Padget Hospital Junction
A1 Studies North and West of Newcastle
Options detailed in previous meetings (no update from last week yet) include:
- Further widening of the A1 to the west of Newcastle and Gateshead
- Dualling of several sections on the road north to Scotland