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Money to burn! A road building bonanza marks the end of austerity?

burn Photo credit: Images_of_Money / Foter / CC BY

Author Tony Whitbread

Chief Executive

15 billion to spend on vanity roads projects around the country is a clear indication that the government has given up on any serious attempts to solve congestion.

Ignoring the evidence, and years of direct experience that shows how new roads create new traffic, government has decided to throw money we dont have at environmentally destructive roads schemes. These will make congestion worse throughout the country especially in Sussex with the A27 proposals.

Look out for the inevitable consequences. You may be able to speed around Arundel (having created a swathe of damage through ancient woodland and across the Arun valley), but the increased traffic will then simply stack up elsewhere. Imagine any part of Sussex where the traffic is already high. These will all become congested. Towns, cities, villages, country roads, even current main roads (think how busy the Washington roundabout is at present) will all get jammed with inevitable demands for yet more roads. More roads, more traffic and then demand for more roads. A familiar and circular treadmill that weve been around so many times before. There really is no excuse for anyone thinking that this will cure congestion.

Its a huge waste of public money that could so much better be spent productively.

Cost-benefit analyses of these proposals, even when heavily loaded in favour of new roads, struggle to reach a two to one return on investment and thats with economic benefits exaggerated and environmental costs ignored. Compare that to investments that enhance nature (when economists bother to do the sums). When conservatively costing the benefits to people from improving the natural functioning of rivers, and the benefits to nature, we often find a return of 6:1. Environment Agency flood defence schemes are expected to achieve 8:1. A costing of the public benefits of the Forestry Commissions public forests returned about 20:1. International studies have shown that protected areas for nature return between 10:1 and 100:1 against investment.

15 billion spent on roads will fail, wasting tax-payers money and cause economic loss rather than benefit. But even if take a glowingly optimistic return, it will struggle to deliver 30bn in public benefit. The same amount invested in nature, like for example in a public forest estate, could deliver 300bn in public benefit.

It happens frequently governments give up on evidence and write themselves anecdotes to support what they wanted to do anyway. Eventually reality will raise its head and more sensible policies have to prevail. But that could be after another round of irreversible environmental damage and another cohort of angry business leaders annoyed at being hood-winked by false promises.

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