Stop the largest ever road-building programme

by Transport Action Network

Stop the largest ever road-building programme

by Transport Action Network
Transport Action Network
Case Owner
Given the devastation new roads can have on local communities, we couldn’t stand idly by and not challenge England’s largest ever roads programme, especially at a time of climate emergency.
on 27th April 2020
pledged of £73,000 stretch target from 2138 pledges
Transport Action Network
Case Owner
Given the devastation new roads can have on local communities, we couldn’t stand idly by and not challenge England’s largest ever roads programme, especially at a time of climate emergency.

Latest: Feb. 18, 2022

The end of the road, or is it?

Despite our best efforts and a lot of public support, we’re sorry to report that we’ve been refused permission to appeal, after our challenge to the approval of the £27bn second Roa…

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Stop the “largest ever” roads programme

Who we are

We are a new national network with over 50 years of campaigning experience between us. We have formed to empower communities fighting destructive road schemes and bus cuts, in order to tackle climate change, reduce social inequality, improve air quality, and protect green spaces and nature.

England’s “largest ever” roads programme

We want to challenge Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2), published on 11 March alongside the Budget. Ministers described it as England’s “largest ever” road-building programme. It involves spending £27.4 billion by 2025 on thousands of miles of roads from Cornwall to Northumberland - at a time of climate and ecological emergency.

Help us take the Department for Transport to court

This February, the Court of Appeal ruled Heathrow expansion plans were illegal because the Department for Transport (DfT) had ignored the Paris climate agreement. In light of this historic judgment we wrote to the DfT to ask it to rethink  road plans but never even received an acknowledgement. Instead it went ahead and published RIS2. With your help we can make the Secretary of State for Transport answer to the High Court. 

We need to urgently raise £38,000 to launch a judicial review of the DfT’s decision to plough on despite the climate emergency. We know it’s a tough time to ask for money but legal rules mean allow just a few weeks to challenge this multi-billion pound decision. Otherwise the DfT will be unaccountable to the public and the planet. Each pound you donate could divert almost a million pounds from this unprecedented roads programme. 

If you are able to please donate, and please share this page far and wide. 

What are we trying to change? 

This roads programme is wrong on so many levels. Here are some of the reasons why we are asking you to help us to stop it.


Carbon emissions from transport have barely changed since 1990.  They are now 28% of domestic emissions, with about 91% of these from road traffic. We urgently need to reduce emissions year-on-year if we are to keep the earth’s temperature within safe limits of 1.5C. By building more roads and creating more traffic, RIS2 would take us in the wrong direction and lock us into an unsustainable future.

UK carbon emissions (DfT, 2020)

Air quality

Over a third of motorways and trunk roads breach air quality limits and Highways England, the DfT owned company that runs them, has failed to spend the £75m pollution fund given to it in 2015. While councils across the country have been seeking funding to improve sustainable travel, this government body has simply sat on its pot of gold. That’s because it has prioritised increasing traffic over breathing safe air.

Air pollution (NOx shown in red) is highest on busy roads (Highways England, 2017)

More than just emissions...

Cancelling the RIS2 roads programme would have many other benefits. While it has come at a terrible cost to lives and livelihoods, coronavirus and the resulting drop in traffic has let people and nature appreciate quieter, safer roads for the first time in years.

Local people demonstrate in Rimrose Valley country park in Liverpool, threatened with destruction by a RIS2 funded dual carriageway

RIS2 instead plans for a future of more roads and more cars, where traffic levels would nearly double by 2050. This would be devastating for people, green spaces and wildlife, making it harder to walk and cycle or to catch a bus. But above all it’s not what the public wants. According to a 2018 DfT report, “building more or even widening roads was generally not seen to be a viable long term solution” with people unwilling “to face the...disruption caused by work to widen roads” and believing “improvements would have little lasting impact on congestion anyway”.

What’s next?

We now need to go to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the decision to approve RIS2. This will be the biggest ever legal challenge to roads policy in history and the Government will have top lawyers defending it. If we did not appoint leading lawyers, we would hinder our chances of success.

Fortunately the same legal team that defeated the DfT over Heathrow has agreed to represent us at a discount. We must quickly raise a minimum of £38,000. This is to cover lawyers’ costs, court fees and the risk of being required to pay some of the DfT’s costs if we lose.

If we are able to raise more than this, funds will be ring-fenced to cover our wider costs for this case or any potential appeal, and to support local campaigns in using the decision through the courts and planning system.

Scaling back RIS2 to focus on maintenance would allow money to be diverted into public transport, rail freight, cycling and walking. We would have cleaner air and less risk of runaway climate change. With more funding local councils could finally tackle potholes on their existing roads. Please help us take the Government to court to enable this better future.

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Update 12

Transport Action Network

Feb. 18, 2022

The end of the road, or is it?

Despite our best efforts and a lot of public support, we’re sorry to report that we’ve been refused permission to appeal, after our challenge to the approval of the £27bn second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) was dismissed in July 2021. The Court of Appeal held the degree to which climate change is looked at is “quintessentially a matter for the decision-maker …absent bad faith or manifest absurdity”. Yet this is far from the end of the road for our challenge to the roads programme.

Respected bodies such as the Climate Change Committee and Institute for Government have called for all major decisions to be subject to a net zero test. This decision shows that a climate test, unless carefully worded and written into statute, would offer no safeguard: English courts will simply shy away from providing the scrutiny needed.

Through bringing this case we have shone a bright light into the murky depths of the Department for Transport. The case highlighted how England’s Strategic Road Network is responsible for a tenth of the UK’s carbon emissions and revealed that officials only assessed the climate impacts of just 90 miles of the 4000 miles of road planned.

We may have lost this battle but with over a dozen flagship road schemes delayed, it’s clear the wheels are falling off the RIS2 roads programme. As public concerns, whether about climate change, road safety or levelling up mount, the “largest ever” roads programme is sinking.

Since March 2020 when RIS2 was published, the Government has adopted far more challenging targets of a 68% cut by 2030 and a 78% cut by 2035. With transport the biggest contributor to emissions with barely any change in levels since 1990, urgent and radical action is required. Experts agree that even a faster switch to electric vehicles will not be enough.

So we are asking ministers to “reopen” RIS2, so that the funding for road schemes can be switched to measures that will reduce, not increase carbon. With cuts to public transport and massive fare increases, there is an increased need for this to happen. We’re also pressing that the same mistakes on climate change are not repeated in RIS3 (2025-2030). 

Besides this, TAN’s challenge to the national roads policy is being heard in the High Court on 24 February, while the number of local groups opposing schemes keeps on growing. Watch this space!

Update 11

Transport Action Network

Aug. 6, 2021

One all

At the end of July the High Court ruled on our case, favouring road-building over the climate. Despite the Department for Transport serving hundreds of pages of documents, the judge was unable to find evidence that ministers had considered the effects of the largest ever roads programme (RIS2) on the climate. So instead he speculated on what ministers must have known. Our legal team has advised this gives us strong grounds to appeal. 

In order to apply to the Court of Appeal, we now need to urgently raise another £5,000 by 16 August, to pay for legal fees and court costs, so we're aiming for a £73,000 target by then. If it grants permission, we would then need to raise a further £20,000 (approximately). 

With carbon from Highways England’s road network contributing to over a tenth of UK domestic emissions, we know we’re on the right track. After legal defeats on road schemes in Derby and Stonehenge, the Government is on the back foot. Pressure is growing for a bigger rethink in the run up to the “Net Zero Spending Review” and COP26 this autumn. The roads programme has not been so under threat since the mid-1990s.

As the planet overheats and areas around the world suffer devastating floods, our action to stop the UK Government making things worse becomes ever more important. That’s why we are continuing to fight RIS2.

We’d like you to help us give it one more push to topple a roads programme unfit for the 21st century, when the Government should be investing far more in walking, cycling and public transport. While it has set out positive rhetoric in these areas, the levels of funding pale into insignificance compared to what it is still allocating for road-building.  If redirected, those billions would be transformative for communities across the country. By donating to our appeal costs, you can help make this change a reality.

Update 10

Transport Action Network

June 28, 2021

Our day in court

After much delay we finally have our day in court. Tuesday, 29 June will be the start of a two day hearing on our challenge to the £27bn RIS2 roads programme. This represents over a year of hard work by ourselves and our legal team to get to this point, including two interim hearings, and is why we are still fundraising for this case. 

While it’s taken longer than planned, the timing of our hearing couldn’t be better. Last Tuesday the Welsh Government announced a freeze on road-building out of concerns for climate change. Then on Thursday, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) came out with much stronger messages on transport and particularly road building than it has done previously. It recommended that “Decisions on investment in roads should be contingent on analysis justifying how they contribute to the UK’s pathway to Net Zero. This analysis should demonstrate that the proposals would not lead to increases in overall emissions.” Then on Sunday a Guardian opinion piece called on the roads programme to be revised.

All of these are a direct challenge to the Department for Transport but will be essential if the UK is going to secure the 63% cut in emissions needed between 2019 and 2035. The CCC is now calling on the ministers to “prioritise funding away from car use” and to provide “measures to make it less attractive to drive”. The legal challenge you have helped fund is turning up the temperature for action at this crucial time, in the run up to the UN COP26 climate conference this autumn. 

Campaigners will be meeting at 12:45pm, Tuesday, 29 June 2021 outside Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, with banners and placards, in support of this historic legal challenge on the first day of the judicial review. If you can make it, we’d love to see you there.

Update 9

Transport Action Network

July 29, 2020

TAN wins first round in roads battle

We’ve won the first round in our David and Goliath battle against the Department for Transport’s (DfT) £27bn roads programme. In late July, we were given permission to proceed with our legal challenge to the “largest ever roads programme” at the High Court. An order by Mrs Justice Lieven declared the case to be significant, meaning it will be fast-tracked for a hearing before the third of November.

The Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) was announced alongside the Budget in March but had been years in the making. So it was largely already finished when the the law was changed in June 2019 to require carbon emissions to decrease to net zero. We’re challenging it on the basis that ministers published it without giving due regard to net zero. The government’s response was that it was entitled to put off thinking about the implications until after it published a Transport Decarbonisation Plan later in 2020, which it is currently consulting on. This was despite the fact that ministers agreed any such plan will inevitably need to set out how to use cars less.

The legal challenge will now come at a crucial time, when the Chancellor is due to set out new spending priorities and transport ministers have to make decisions on flagship road schemes, such as the A303 Stonehenge and A303 Sparkford – Ilchester. These were due to be decided on 17 July but Grant Shapps MP has deferred a decision on both schemes until November. 

The Prime Minister's new cycling and walking revolution could only come up with £2bn of previously announced funding for active travel. We expect more and more people to call for RIS2 cash to be diverted to bolster this.

Indeed with yet another poll showing public opposition to road-building has continued to increase this summer, it seems the wheels could finally be falling off these flagship road plans.

Update 8

Transport Action Network

July 10, 2020

Road plans to wipe out e-car savings

Sometimes when you take a hard decision, it’s only later you’re sure you did the right thing. Today was one such moment when we read a new study that rubbishes the Government’s claim that new roads have little impact on climate change. 

The study calculates 80% of the carbon savings from switching to electric vehicles will be wiped out by the £27 billion roads plan we’re seeking to challenge in court. Building roads would increase carbon emissions by 20 million tonnes up to 2032 it found, a period when it is critical there are rapid reductions. The story has been covered widely, including by the BBC, The Times and the i.

Only a few days earlier the Department for Transport finally filed its response to our case. There it asserted it was simply “impossible” that the UK’s largest ever roads plan could hinder tackling climate change and that the Paris Agreement wasn’t obviously relevant. Government lawyers argued this meant ministers were justified in simply ploughing on for now and promising to publish a carbon cutting plan in the future.

Unfortunately, as it’s now a court document we can’t share this with you but what we can say is how shocked we were by this response! Days earlier the Committee on Climate Change made a compelling call for urgent action, in the face of what’s set to be the hottest year ever (see our previous blog). Thanks to our legal case, the government’s true position - rejecting acting now on climate - has at least been revealed. The trouble is they are seeking to conceal this with a stream of warm words, photo opportunities and announcements.  

This is where you come in. Please help us get the word out more widely and keep the pressure up, by sharing this blog and the compelling media coverage of the report on social media. New polling has revealed that only 9% of people want more roads built in their local area, the trouble is politicians don’t accept views have changed. Let your friends, families and colleagues know why we can no longer put off a change of direction on roads. The easiest way is by sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter. You can keep in touch with what we are up to by signing up to our new newsletter, we will be sharing more actions very shortly.

Update 7

Transport Action Network

June 27, 2020

A shot across the bows

Woman at demonstration holding placard saying "CLIMATE EMERGENCY = Stop!"

The Government was supposed to file its response to our legal challenge against its huge roads programme this week. Instead we’re still waiting. In its annual report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) called on ministers to “seize the opportunity” from COVID to tackle accelerating climate change. Surely scrapping road-building fits the bill?

The CCC’s advice to Parliament certainly seemed very clear: “Public money should not support industries or infrastructure in a way that is not consistent with the future net-zero economy”. 

Unfortunately while it’s been too busy to respond to us, the Department for Transport (DfT) has found the time to publish plans for a key ten mile section of the supposedly paused Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. At every opportunity the DfT sticks its head in the sand so it can increase spending public money on high carbon roads.

Based on the CCC’s latest figures, if we are to have a hope in stopping runaway climate change, we need to cut UK transport emissions by over two-thirds by 2032. This is a far greater reduction than the DfT suggested in its decarbonisation plans announced this March. Yet we are set to emerge from the pandemic with “motoring cheaper than it has been for a very long time”, according to Lord Deben, the CCC’s chair. It’s as if we’re accelerating off in the wrong direction. Even rolling out electric cars far faster won’t be enough. 

A massive programme of walking, cycling, public transport and broadband upgrades is needed now. Please help us campaign for this by  sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter, and the link to this crowdfunder. You can also keep up to date with all our latest transport campaigning news by signing up for our new e-newsletter

Update 6

Transport Action Network

June 12, 2020

Top climate scientist warns against more roads

As carbon emissions took a sudden turn for the worst this week, as lockdowns across the globe were eased, a top climate scientist has warned that building more roads “would be very detrimental”. Corrine Le Quere, is a professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia and a member of the Committee on Climate Change which was established by the Government to provide independent advice on climate change. This warning validates our current legal action and the strong view amongst many that we cannot continue with business as usual.

Carbon emissions are now only 5% lower than this time last year and the fear is that we could be on track for even high emissions over the next few weeks and months as many people shun public transport. This has been exacerbated by the Government telling people to avoid public transport and to drive as much as you want to despite encouraging people to walk and cycle more.

Le Quere has warned that the role of Governments will be key and that there was still a window of opportunity to act before the end of the year. Governments need to use their economic rescue packages to ensure a switch from high to low carbon infrastructure.  

While the Government has started to do some good things in urban areas, it is sending out mixed messages around driving. It and many county councils still appear addicted to carbon intensive infrastructure, such as new roads. With an emergency budget in July to stimulate the economic recovery, it is essential that the Government understands the dire implications of continuing business as usual and the building of new roads.

We’ve now raised over £46,000 for our legal challenge to the road programme thanks to your generosity, and filed our case at the High Court last week. Please continue to help us to raise awareness of this important legal action by sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter, the link to this crowdfunder, and our blogs.

Update 5

Transport Action Network

June 5, 2020

Department’s addiction to road-building challenged in historic legal case

After much preparation, and due to your generous support, our lawyers have been able to start proceedings against the Department for Transport’s £27bn Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2). The historic case, the biggest legal challenge to road-building in British history, comes as the Chancellor is considering an infrastructure boost in next month’s emergency budget. 

To date the Department has ignored the fact that building roads and increased traffic would scupper its chances of meeting binding climate change and air pollution targets. Air pollution has breached legal limits for over a decade while Greenhouse Gas Emissions from transport have barely changed since 1990. With 2020 set to be the hottest year on record, we cannot put off urgent action any longer. Even when all the evidence points to a need to change direction, the Department for Transport has been unable to kick its addiction to road-building. We believe that only a resounding defeat in the courts can shake it out of its stupor.

With more people enjoying fresh air and wanting to ‘Build Back Better’, our challenge to road-building could not have been better timed. Hitting reset on the DfT’s roads plan will release billions to tackle the £16bn bridge maintenance and pothole backlog on local roads. And it will free up funding for alternatives to being stuck in traffic, whether cycleways for e-bikes or reopening railways. That’s far better for kick-starting the economy after the current crisis, while safeguarding our health and our environment.

The DfT is required to respond to our arguments within 21 days. Because of the case’s national significance, assuming the High Court grants permission, the legal challenge is expected to be heard by the autumn.

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance’s executive director, commenting on our challenge said: 

“The government’s massive road building programme made no sense before COVID-19 and now it looks positively eccentric. The roads programme will stoke climate change and worsen air pollution, without cutting congestion. Let’s invest in broadband and sustainable transport instead, and redouble our efforts to cut carbon emissions and restore the natural world.”

Update 4

Transport Action Network

May 28, 2020

£90 billion roads programme uncovered!

While gathering the evidence to build our case for the High Court we have discovered that the £27.4 billion 5-year RIS2 roads programme is just the tip of the iceberg. We have uncovered documents showing that the Government plans to spend a total of £90 billion on trunk roads over the next 15 years to 2035. Then there’s all the other local road schemes it is funding which would take the likely total even higher.

We secured a great piece in The Times exposing this mega-roadbuilding spree. Please help us by sharing this news far and wide, so people are aware of what the Government are really up to.

This revelation and the need for more research to counter the Government's defence is why we decided to continue our crowdfunder when it ran out last week. We need to work hard to build the strongest possible case. The more money we can raise, the more research we and our lawyers can do and the greater our chances of success. Please help us by sharing the link to the crowdfunder as widely as you can.

We hope to be able to update you next week on some more interesting developments.

Update 3

Transport Action Network

May 14, 2020

Drive as much as you want to!

Across our cities roads are being closed while new cycle lanes and wider pavements pop up, promising to reset our relationship with cars. By contrast ministers have just started encouraging the public to “drive as much as you want to” to visit the countryside. 

So it was no big surprise this Monday, when we finally heard back from the Department for Transport (DfT), it refused to back down. In its response, it claims decarbonisation will be addressed “at a society-wide level” and its largest ever roads plan in fact “is a fully-integrated part of this wider effort to reach net zero emissions”. 

Lowering emissions with one hand by supporting active travel and increasing them by building thousands of miles of roads with the other. How could anyone describe that as joined up? Fortunately our lawyers have advised us we have an arguable case, meaning we plan to see (or should that be Zoom) the DfT in court. But we now need to do more research than originally planned to prepare, and well before the end of the month. To be confident we can file a strong case later this month, we need to raise another £7,000 in the next week. 

Anything you can do to share or support this effort is much appreciated. Please share this Crowdjustice page as much as you can, also the new video on our website, which explains why this case is important for so many.

After weeks of quieter roads benefiting nature and families venturing out together, this weekend will see traffic returning to our countryside. Worse still the Government’s roads programme includes half a billion pounds to plan massive new roads across our most cherished landscapes, including across the Pennines, Cotswolds and Wiltshire Downs. Of course some trips can only be made by car but now’s the time surely to be investing in alternatives, whether in town or country.

When we started our legal challenge we never imagined how many messages of support we’d receive or how timely it would feel to all of you who’ve been so generous. Many thanks once again for your support.

Update 2

Transport Action Network

May 4, 2020

The world is changing

When you have the President of the AA questioning whether we should be spending so much on new roads and suggesting that investing in broadband should be a higher priority you know things are changing.  Then we’ve had the head of the Committee on Climate Change, a body not normally known for its outspoken views, saying that the Government shouldn’t be investing in things that make climate change worse.  This is pretty strong stuff, but we cannot ease off the pressure just yet.

A huge thank you to everyone who has spread the word, donated, and shared the link to the Crowd Justice appeal. While we're absolutely thrilled to have raised nearly £30,000, we need to raise a minimum of £38,000 to cover our (greatly reduced) legal costs to take this case on.

The reason we have set ourselves a stretch target of £100,000 is that things could get more complicated and costly.  This could happen if we have to broaden the scope of our challenge or if we have to appeal, or defend an appeal by the Government.

Whatever happens the money raised will not be wasted as any surplus money will be used to support local groups, and to help bring other similar transport and climate legal challenges.

In the meantime, help the Government see sense, by continuing to share our appeal and support our campaign.  Many thanks.

Update 1

Transport Action Network

April 23, 2020

And we’ve launched!

Thank you SO much to you all for your donations. Each and every one has brought us closer to our target. In fact thanks to your amazing generosity, by the end of our first day (by happy coincidence the 50th Earth Day) we raised a THIRD of our initial costs.

At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, when many are worried about their jobs and the economy, that’s incredible. What we are hearing from the many supportive comments is that people don’t want the current road building madness to continue or for the pain of the current crisis to be for nothing. This is backed by a new survey showing the majority of the public are cherishing cleaner air while only 9% want a return to “normal”. 

We have also been bowled over by the excellent media coverage of our case, including The Guardian, Forbes, The Times (£) and The Telegraph (£). Leading NGOs like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and CPRE have tweeted their support, recognising the huge importance of this case for our climate and our countryside. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Committee on Climate Change has come out against road-building, having previously focused on the roll out of electric cars.

Finally just as we were about to send this, our lawyers told us the Department for Transport has asked for an extra week to respond. This is the second time in days it’s had to ask for more time! It shows the strength of our legal case and the rapidly growing public opposition to Road Investment Strategy 2.

We are tremendously grateful for your support. Please continue to share our appeal with your friends, family and colleagues. This will help us raise the remaining costs we need to issue our legal claim next month.

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