The Policy Case

Acknowledgement: Dr Christopher Gillham

The publication of a National Road Traffic Forecast in 1989 proved a catalyst in the development of the UK Roads Programme. With the forecasts suggesting a startling increase in traffic of between 83% & 142% by 2025 (Fig.1) the response was to come forward with a £6bn investment increase in the inter-urban road programme and a Roads White Paper including hundreds of road schemes. Not surprisingly, as the environmental implications of such development were realised, a strong body of counter-opinion formed.

Awareness of the political heat generated by the Roads Programme was shown in the Labour Party’s Environmental Policy Statement, In Trust for Tomorrow, 1994, stating that: ‘Building new roads offers at best temporary relief from traffic congestion. It is now accepted by almost everyone apart from the Department of Transport, that new roads generate new traffic…Widening existing roads will have much the same effect’.

Since 1997, national transport policy for roads has evolved significantly. Successive White Papers and roads reviews by governments have emphasised at different stages that new road building would be an option of last resort, while also stressing the need to protect environmentally sensitive sites where new capacity was required. For example, both A New Deal for Transport: better for everyone White Paper
1998 and The Future of Transport White Paper 2004, confirmed that: ‘there will continue to be a strong presumption against schemes that would significantly affect environmentally sensitive sites or important species habitats or landscapes’. Such policy statements were paralleled by reviews of the Roads Programme. In 1998, a significantly trimmed list of 37 schemes representing a ‘Targeted Programme of
Improvements’ (TPI) was announced. An A36/46 link road for Bath was not included. The announcement of the Ten Year Plan for Transport in 2000 significantly changed the policy landscape again. The TPI was extended to 53 schemes, and more money was made available through the Local Transport Plan (LTP) settlement for local roads. Once again an A36/46 link was not included.

One analysis of the Ten Year Plan (CPRE, 2001) concluded that: ‘…the headline forecast of the plan – to reduce congestion at the same time as increasing traffic – depends heavily on the discussion about how to measure congestion, the effect of extra road capacity, and the effect of changes in costs and speeds of travel. …the suggested expansion of the road programme would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of induced traffic in the most congested locations’. But however nuanced, current transport policy still includes the promotion of a sizeable roads programme at national and local level and has the potential to impact adversely on the countryside and on progress towards tackling climate change and achieving sustainable development.

In The Future of Transport (2004), Government recorded: ‘Road networks [will be] enhanced by new capacity where it is needed, assuming that any environmental and social costs are justified’. This policy approach rests on an assumption that it is possible to weigh all the different pros and cons arising from a road scheme and make an appropriate calculation of the different costs and benefits. Such an assumption
puts a large responsibility on the appraisal process as part of decision making. If the appraisal, including cost benefit analysis (COBA) and other forms of assessment, suggests that costs are justified, then the scheme is highly likely to proceed. But what if together the assumptions, forecasting, modelling and the appraisal process as a whole are shown to be flawed and contradictive of policy?

fig1

Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy stresses the importance of integrated solutions to problems, rather than relying on trading off different potential benefits (economic, social and environmental) in decision making. It states that: ‘…that goal [sustainable development] will be pursued in an integrated way through a sustainable, innovative and productive economy that delivers high levels of employment; and a just society that promotes social inclusion, sustainable communities and personal wellbeing. This will be done in ways that protect and enhance the physical and natural environment, and use resources and energy as efficiently as possible’.

One way to learn whether appraisal processes are robust is by examining road schemes after construction to determine whether, in practice, they have delivered the benefits promised, at the costs predicted. A questionable feature of the present appraisal process is that it scores a road scheme more highly if it is routed through attractive countryside and thereby provides a pleasant ‘view from the road’. The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (2006) referred to ‘disbenefit which may arise where a road passes through heavily industrialised or other visually unattractive areas’. This methodology provides an unacceptable incentive to route schemes through open countryside. Wider noise impacts are   not considered in the appraisal or the evaluation process, yet noise has a major impact on the rural character of the countryside. Further, the cumulative impacts of noise, road lighting associated with schemes, and visual intrusion of ‘man-made’ infrastructure can combine to reduce the remoteness
and wildness of a landscape and its tranquillity. These complex and interacting factors are generally overlooked in the appraisal and evaluation processes.

These following notes are from “Beyond Transport Infrastructure: Lessons for the future from recent road projects. Final report for CPRE and the Countryside Agency. 2006” by: Lilli Matson, Ian Taylor, Lynn Sloman and John Elliott. A comprehensive 2006 review, it looked at new road building and three case studies in particular, questioning whether new roads deliver traffic relief and other benefits that their proponents promise. It asked whether new roads can actually encourage extra traffic, create pressure for new development, and damage the landscape. Evidence emerging suggested the answer – in a significant number of circumstances – was yes.

Beyond Transport Infrastructure A36 A46 Link Road Facts

Beyond Transport Infrastructure Conclusions…
• The appraisal of road schemes places undue emphasis on monetised COBA as a method for assessing the merits or otherwise of individual schemes, and consequently neglects important but non-monetised impacts.
• There is a tendency for pre-scheme appraisal to under-estimate future traffic growth resulting from new roads. For example, the Newbury Bypass in 2006 carried 46% more traffic than the pre-scheme appraisal predicted it would carry in 2010. The M65 similarly exceeded the predicted 2010 maximum flow six years early.
• There is a tendency to over-estimate the traffic relief that schemes will deliver to existing roads.
• Appraisals generally fail to take account of the effects in stimulating car-based development. They consequently also fail to take account of resulting congestion on both new and feeder roads, arising as a result of new car trips to new housing, retail and business parks.
• There is failure to take account of the landscape impacts arising
• The NATA methodology is weak in appraisal of the impact of a scheme on accessibility, integration, and CO2 emissions. If the appraisal is not robust, neither will be the evaluation.
• Evaluations place undue emphasis on calculations of whether the theoretical economic benefits of a scheme, as predicted at scheme appraisal, are accurate.
• Evaluation seems very narrowly defined. Methodologies allow consideration of whether the AST is telling ‘the truth’, but not whether it tells ‘the whole truth’. In addition, evaluation does not explicitly consider whether a scheme has met its original objectives, and the extent to which these were valid.
• Evaluation rarely includes explicit consideration of induced traffic.
• Treatment of the landscape impact of schemes is inadequate. Methodology does not allow for dialogue with groups such as AONB bodies, local landscape officers and environmental groups.
• Treatment of noise impacts does not extend to examining the impact of noise on the wider countryside.
• Treatment of CO2 and accessibility impacts is either non existent or superficial.
• There is no meaningful consideration of whether the road scheme has contributed towards wider transport integration and little examination of the effects of a road scheme on changes in land use.
“What is surprising is that no feedback mechanism is in place to ensure that national and local transport policy is informed by real experience and evolves accordingly.”

From Christopher Gillham’s Evidence to House of Commons Transport Select Committee Inquiry into the strategic road network, submitted 17 October 2013:

There is no justification for assuming road building is beneficial as an axiom. The Eddington Transport Study 2006 does not demonstrate that road building is good for the economy. While it refers to correlation between GDP growth and road traffic, it is at pains to stress that he did not know which way the correlation ran. Does GDP growth result from road building or the other way round? It is a pity that he did not commission a study of this and from the absence of any response from the DfT on the subject it is likely that they have never studied it either.

fig2

Fig. 2 shows the kind of curve indicator that occurs when changes in GDP are cross-correlated with increases in major road capacity. It suggests that the direction of correlation is opposite to that we would expect from the presumption that roads increase GDP. The correlation is markedly negative – GDP tends to go down after road construction. Similarly other measures of the economy appear not to have
the positive effect reckoned for them. A correlation test indicates that a rise in unemployment,
for example, follows an increase in road building.

Even correlation of accidents with road building does not follow the direction of causality the DfT would have us believe. Considering that COBA always reckons an accident benefit from building roads this may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t do so. We know that the accident rate on motorways, for example, is low compared with that on other roads, but that says nothing about how motorway driving may
influence driving off the motorway or how road building induces traffic on other parts of the network
and effectively contributes to accidents there.

Amongst Eddington’s 2006 recommendations were:
“Government should adopt a sophisticated policy mix to meet both economic and environmental goals. Policy should get the prices right (especially congestion pricing on the roads and environmental pricing across all modes) and make best use of existing networks. Reflecting the high returns available from some transport investment, based on full appraisal of environmental and social costs and benefits, the Government, together with the private sector should deliver sustained and targeted infrastructure investment, in those schemes which demonstrate high returns, including smaller schemes tackling pinch points.

The policy process needs to be rigorous and systematic: Start with the three strategic economic priorities, define the problems, consider the full range of modal options using appraisal techniques that include full environmental and social costs and benefits, and ensure that spending is focused on the best policies. Government needs to ensure the delivery system is ready to meet future challenges, including through reform of sub-national governance arrangements and reforming the planning process for major transport projects by introducing a new Independent Planning Commission to take decisions on projects of strategic importance. I believe that, if Government implements these recommendations, the UK will create and maintain a modern, responsive and efficient transport system. Such a system is needed to improve the experience of all who use the UK’s transport networks and to support the UK’s  competitiveness, boost the productivity of the economy, help UK businesses to compete on the global stage, whilst enabling government to meet its challenging environmental goals and improving the quality of life for all who live in this country.”

Roads are two-way things and in logic can as equally drag activity out of a region as bring it in. Eddington fights very shy of asserting that an individual scheme can be assumed to bring a benefit to a particular area and certainly doesn’t include this as one of his reasons for building roads. This is something else the DfT ought to have done some research on. The DfT have had more than half a century in which to do the elementary research to justify their assumptions. They have not done it and they have not engaged in argument when elementary criticism of their assumptions is drawn to their attention. The DfT have always adopted a strategy of simply ignoring criticism.

Conventional public transport with good reliability, frequency and coverage (spatial and temporal) would so clearly be the efficient way of doing things that you’d think every town council in the country would be making it happen. But ask them and they all say that local businesses fear a loss of trade if you restrict car access. While there are towns and cities on the Continent with clearly more radical transport policiesand apparently at least as prosperous as car-choked towns, there appears to be no
definitive research on this.”

Dr. Christopher Gillham, 17 October 2013.

This last observation points to causes of traffic congestion around Bath.