Road Investment Risks Undermining Government’s Green Pledges

2nd December 2020

The UK government has announced billions of pounds of new investment in roads and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles as part of its Spending Review 2020.

Dr Gavin Bailey, Sustainable Transport Lead at Eunomia, has carried out extensive research on sustainable transport options, including into the implementation of electric bus systems across Europe and the benefits of active travel for the environment and economy. Reacting to the spending announcements, he said:

Focus on sustainable transport, not cars

The glaring issue with the government’s Spending Review is that we need to be investing in more sustainable modes of transport that move people around at the lowest environmental, spatial and energy impact possible. From what we know of cars (whether they are fossil fuel or electric) this is not the case. We should be concentrating investment on transport systems that focus on rail for long-distance, inter-city travel – not roads; and help people to get around at each end of the rail journey through local public transport systems, cycling and walking, and car clubs. We should be focusing electric vehicle infrastructure in rural areas where getting people out of cars is too difficult, and the economies of extensive public transport networks don’t work.

Roads are environmentally damaging

Building a road is an incredibly carbon-intensive process. For example, 1,000kg of Portland concrete cement releases 650kg of carbon dioxide as a result of the chemical processes involved. In addition to this, roads use up a lot of natural capital and affect natural processes such as the water cycle. Roads and their drainage systems act as fast routes for water to transport pollution to the sea. Though much of this water does go via water treatment plants, these are not 100% effective.

Empty promises

The planned investments in the Spending Review only go to show that we have not learned from the mistakes of the past, and are myopically focused on the monetary potential of an electric vehicle future. For a government pledging a sustainable future, based on the Review, it appears that pledge is somewhat empty.

Image courtesy of Ozzy Delaney via Flickr (CC by 2.0)