Guardian 12/12/00, Battle over bypasses may hinge on Hastings, John Vidal
Environment groups and transport campaigners are ready to challenge government plans to spend up to £lbn next year on roadworks and new bypasses which they say could increase traffic with no economic benefit. The Department of Transport is expected in the next week to announce detailed plans for 77 bypass schemes put forward by councils, many in politically marginal areas.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Transport 2000 and other groups say some schemes are being rushed through without thorough assessment of their economic, social or environmental impact and without proper consultation with communities. They further accuse the government of wasting taxpayers’ money. This week a CPRE survey suggested that 32 schemes had not been properly assessed and many more were being promoted by government on the basis that they would help economic development despite evidence to the contrary.
The groups which led the protracted battles against road building in the 1990s and backed dozens of protests including those at Newbury, Twyford Down and Batheaston, said there was growing dismay among members that the government was ignoring its own advice that road building was not the best way to tackle congestion and economic regeneration and often fuelled traffic growth and pollution. They did not, however, expect big demonstrations yet “The battle lines are being drawn. Road building is definitely back on the agenda. We do not think that the lessons of the 1990s have been learned” said a CPRE spokesman yesterday. “The consensus used to be that we could not build ourselves out of the problems with new roads but this is no longer recognised by government” Many schemes were potentially destructive, with some passing through areas of outstanding natural beauty and protected scientific sites. “Middle England will be very sceptical”; said Stephen Joseph of Transport 2000. “The government thinks the public wants new roads. They are going to upset a lot of people who remember the stupidity of road building in the mid 1990s and know that road building increases rather than reduces traffic.” Transport campaigners intend to “draw a line in the sand” over the possible road around Hastings. This would damage two sites of special scientific interest and pass through a designated wildlife site.
A government-financed study published this week on building the road, against the option of public transport and other alternatives, was inconclusive, but it warned that road building could further depress the town’s economy. The business community is strongly backing the bypass. The Hastings study is the first of 27 on the impact of big schemes. “It will be a test case,” said Mr Joseph. “If the government agrees to road building here, it will be courting disaster. It is a key marginal seat. It would certainly conflict with the government’s own transport plan.” But a Guardian survey of some road building by the Conservatives showed that by-passes and roadworks did not necessarily bring economic regeneration or solve traffic congestion. The consensus of communities affected was that they might in the short term reduce traffic at peak times in towns and villages, but many increased dramatically development pressures on green-field sites. Paul Hamblin of the CPRE said: “Surveys show that public support is high for measures to tackle traffic growth, provide alternatives to the car and better maintain roads and railways.” In the next two years more than £2bn is expected to be spent on more than 200 road schemes. They include widening motorways and dozens of smaller bypasses.
www.roads.detr.gov.uk/roadnetwork/sactra/report9 Department of the Environment: transport and the economy
www.cpre.org.uk/poIicy/positions/transport.htm CPRE transport campaign
www.transport2000.demon.co.uk Transport 2000
www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/atmosphere_and_transport/ FoE transport campaign