Halt climate chaos and the attack on nature

by Transport Action Network

Halt climate chaos and the attack on nature

by Transport Action Network
Transport Action Network
Case Owner
The Government’s obsession with road building needs challenging before it wreaks havoc on nature, our climate and our economy
on 01st October 2022
pledged of £21,800 stretch target from 368 pledges
Transport Action Network
Case Owner
The Government’s obsession with road building needs challenging before it wreaks havoc on nature, our climate and our economy

Latest: June 7, 2023

They got away with it

A huge thanks to everyone who contributed to this challenge to try and stop one of the biggest carbon emitting  schemes in the roads programme (RIS2). Unfortunately, we were not given permission…

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Help get us off the road to climate chaos and biodiversity breakdown

Rishi Sunak and his Government are not treating climate change and the nature crisis with the urgency required. Help us halt the construction of the £1billion A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet ‘improvement’, part of the supposedly cancelled (and much hated) Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. If they can get away with it here, they will do it all over the country. 

Stopping the A428 could help rewrite the rules for assessing all new road schemes and stop climate change and nature from being sidelined in future decisions.

And with the Government threatening to clamp down on legal challenges this could be one of the last opportunities to do this.

Fantasy economics

Rishi Sunak and his ministers keep mentioning speeding up road building to drive economic growth. Yet just like the mini-budget which has wreaked so much havoc in the economy, more roads will wreck our environment. They also make no sense economically. Many road schemes are low value for money or cost more than they will ever generate in benefits. The A428 is a very expensive and inefficient way of stimulating the economy.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Climate Crisis - making it worse

The A428 is one of the biggest carbon emitting schemes in the Government’s roads programme (RIS2). It will drive up emissions across the region. It will make it harder for England’s Economic Heartland (the regional transport body) to meet its target of reaching net-zero by 2040 and reducing car traffic by 5% by 2030. It will also undermine local action to tackle climate change by using up a substantial proportion of local carbon budgets.

Clockwise from top left: Badger, Skylark, Otter, Hobby

Stop the attack on nature

There is huge concern about the Government’s proposals to speed up roadbuilding and sweep away environmental protections. Yet when this road was given the go-ahead, the current rules to protect the environment were effectively sidelined and ignored, resulting in a biodiversity net LOSS for hedgerows. If they are allowed to get away with this now, it will only embolden them to strip away even more protections in the future.

The road will destroy large lengths of hedgerow, while also affecting species such as otters, bats, barn owls, badgers, hobbies, red kites and skylarks.

Failure to improve cycling

The area this road will pass through is fairly flat and ideal for cycling. Nearby Cambridge has one of the highest levels of cycling in the UK. Yet National Highways has done the bare minimum for cycling that it can get away with. For example, it could have created a cycle superhighway, using the old road, to connect the growing communities of St Neots and Cambourne. This would help reduce traffic and emissions along this corridor and give people real choice in how they travel. Given current fuel costs, it would help those suffering from the cost of living crisis.

Undermining new rail links

This road would run parallel to a potential new East-West rail link. Its huge overcapacity will undermine the railway and make it less viable. The £1billion for this road could be spent in a better way to give people real choice of how they travel, instead of creating more jams.

No need for a road this big

The road is a new dual carriageway which will run close to the old A428. It represents a trebling of road capacity for much of its length, an expansion that is totally unwarranted and will increase traffic on the surrounding road network. 

Given that we need to reduce traffic to reduce carbon emissions quickly enough, it’s madness to be building roads which increase it.

The Government seems to believe that there is no contradiction between its Transport Decarbonisation Plan's recognition of the need to use our cars less and building more roads!

Who we are

We are the only national environmental organisation that is actively challenging damaging new roads on climate grounds. Despite our small size, we have previously taken legal action against the Government’s roads programme (RIS2) and successfully forced it to review its national roads policy.

How we’re doing this

Our solicitors are Leigh Day, who we’ve used for our previous legal challenges, and our barristers specialise in climate and nature cases. They have kindly agreed to work for us at a hugely discounted rate. Our initial target is to help cover the advice we’ve received to date, but we’re likely to need to raise £35,000, which might rise if we have to appeal. This is to cover lawyers’ costs, court fees and the risk of having to pay some of the DfT’s costs if we lose.

Any surplus funds will be used to cover our wider costs for this case or any potential appeal, and to support our roads campaigning including helping grassroots road campaigns.

What’s next?

We’ve filed our claim with the High Court. The Department for Transport will now file a defence and the court will then decide whether to grant us permission to proceed. If they grant permission, we will then have a full court hearing to discuss the merits of our case.

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Update 3

Transport Action Network

June 7, 2023

They got away with it

A huge thanks to everyone who contributed to this challenge to try and stop one of the biggest carbon emitting  schemes in the roads programme (RIS2). Unfortunately, we were not given permission for judicial review of the approval decision, despite it being such a significant scheme and the Government being short on its target to cut emissions by 2030. The misapplication of the environmental mitigation hierarchy was also not properly addressed.

Had the A428 been approved now, after the Government has been forced to release key data about the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and has admitted it will not meet its Paris Agreement target of a 68% cut in emissions by 2030, it's likely our challenge would have succeeded. It is inconceivable that the Government didn't know these facts at the time they approved the A428, over a year after the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. In this context, building new roads, which increase carbon emissions, is inherently irrational. Yet we were not allowed to make these arguments. 

Equally, it's been a principle for years that we should try to avoid harming nature before trying to offset its loss, yet this didn't happen here. With extreme weather setting ever more records as every year goes by, this principle is more important than ever. Especially, given National Highways’ success rate with new planting: just down the road over half a million trees, planted as compensation for the A14, have died.

Hedgerows take at least 40 years before they become valuable for nature and for there to be a range of species colonising them (e.g. there needs to be a mixture of younger, middle aged and decaying wood for the full range of fungi, insects, etc.). The idea that Biodiversity Net Gain is a solution, or means that developers don't have to try and avoid damage in the first place, is a deeply worrying interpretation by the DfT.

We are not giving up, and have in fact just launched a new legal challenge against the Government slashing funding for walking and cycling.

We are also continuing our fight to stop damaging new roads and will be stepping it up during the latest consultation on the next roads programme for 2025-30 (RIS3) which runs until 13 July (check our website for more info). Our success in supporting local groups can be seen by the delays to many road schemes (not all down to soaring costs). Two, in particular, the A27 Arundel Bypass and A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road have been pushed back into the next roads programme RIS3 because of local opposition. Both “face a range of challenges including environmental considerations and ongoing scope and design changes to ensure stakeholders’ views are fully considered”. Plus the A303 Stonehenge scheme has already been significantly delayed.

To find out more about our work you can sign up to our monthly newsletter or visit our website.

Update 2

Transport Action Network

March 6, 2023

Good news - we have a court date!

It’s been a while but we have finally got a date for our permission hearing! We’ll be at the High Court on 30 March (no time as yet) to argue our case for a full hearing later this year.

The timing could not be more apt, with the UK Government having to respond to the shortfall in its Net-Zero Strategy by the end of March and the revelations around the Transport Decarbonisation Plans showing it to be woefully inadequate. At the same time the Government is due to consult on its next roads programme (RIS3) which will run from 2023 – 2030 and future national roads policy. Both these consultations are already many months late, highlighting the mess the Government is in on decarbonisation.

In contrast, the Welsh Government has announced it will only proceed with road building where it supports modal shift and reduces carbon emissions. Scotland also has a traffic reduction target leaving England somewhat isolated.

The House of Commons Transport Committee is also holding an inquiry into strategic road investment. We appeared on 1 March to give oral evidence – a coup for a small organisation such as ours - probably because we are doing the most, of all environmental organisations, on challenging road building. You can see our appearance here (from around 10:44am onwards).

We along with others are continuing to challenge road building in a bid to make the Government see sense. We are incredibly grateful for all the support we’ve received to date. Hopefully, we will succeed in the end.

Update 1

Transport Action Network

Dec. 5, 2022

Case delayed as threats from road building rise

Last week, the judge who is looking at our case called for us and the defence (the Department for Transport) to update our submissions to the court. This arose after the DfT changed its story in its response to our initial submissions.

We were expecting to hear whether we had got permission by now, but this delay means that we will either hear just before Christmas, or will have to wait until the New Year.

One thing is certain though. With the Government doubling down on wanting to build new roads, regardless of whether they make any economic sense or the damage that they do, there has never been a more important time to challenge them. That’s why the Government’s hypocrisy in approving high carbon infrastructure, such as new roads, while saying it is committed to tackling climate change needs exposing and stopping.

At the same time, legislation is progressing through Parliament that will potentially strip away many of our environmental protections that originated from Europe. These are deeply worrying times and that’s why this challenge is more important than ever.

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