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Air quality groups slam 15 billion roads revolution

Green Party and Friends of the Earth claim government’s road building plans will lead to worsened air pollution

Air quality campaigners have criticised the UK government’s plans to spend £15 billion on 100 new road improvement schemes and adding 1,300 miles of extra lanes to motorways and A-roads.

The likes of the Green Party and campaign group Friends of the Earth believe building roads will encourage more traffic and lead to worsened air quality in the UK, and have urged the government to instead invest in public transport infrastructure and making walking and cycling safer.

Improvements to junctions on the M25 motorway are among the schemes announced as part of the government's £15 billion 'roads revolution'

Improvements to junctions on the M25 motorway are among the schemes announced as part of the government’s £15 billion ‘roads revolution’

It follows the coalition government’s announcement this week (December 1) of further details in its ‘roads revolution’ proposals – first revealed in 2013 – which will include 84 new schemes such as a tunnel to tackle congestion close to Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the A303 and improvements to junctions on the M25 motorway around London.

The Department for Transport described the plans – part of its first ever Road Investment Strategy – as the ‘biggest upgrade to roads in a generation’.

Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin commented that the plans would “dramatically improve our road network and unlock Britain’s economic potential”, allowing people to “travel freely, creating jobs and opportunities, benefiting hardworking families across the country”.

However, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion, Caroline Lucas said the new road schemes were “economically questionable as well as environmentally reckless”, adding that government studies have shown that “road building simply does not reduce congestion”.

In addition, the Green Party’s local transport spokesperson Caroline Russell said: “If you build roads you get more traffic clogging up our towns cities and villages, adding to road danger, air pollution and congestion. The government should be investing in our public transport infrastructure and building convenient networks of cycling and walking routes rather than creating more traffic jams.

“The more we learn about the damaging impact of diesel pollution and physical inactivity on our health, the more urgent the need for this change in direction and priorities becomes. The £100m offered for cycling is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions being spent every year on roads while walking does not even get a mention. If the government is serious about creating jobs and supporting a sustainable economy they should be seizing the huge opportunities available from investing in new, less carbon-intensive transport technologies and looking to reduce our need to travel by car.”

Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth (FotE) also slammed the government’s “out-of-date thinking” on transport as “tackling congestion by building or widening roads was discredited decades ago”.

In addition, the campaign group criticised Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement this week (December 3) for serving up “more environmental gloom” by failing to include provisions to tackle air pollution in the UK.

FotE senior campaigner Jane Thomas said: “Investment in transport is urgently needed, but the priority must be better trains, buses and cycling facilities, not an expensive road-building programme that will cause more traffic and air pollution and make it harder to tackle climate change.”

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