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Monday, 23rd Mar 2020

A defunct plan for a bygone era” - regional authority approves road-building plans

Despite lobbying by Greens and environmental activists, last Friday (20 March) the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) approved a transport plan that will fund new road building projects across the region but commits no funding for public transport or walking and cycling schemes.

In February Green councillors had called for the transport plans to be amended before being passed and pointed out that in light of the High Court rejection of a third runway at Heathrow, the Authority’s plans were potentially illegal. However Bristol’s Labour Cabinet went ahead and approved the plans on 4th March without recommending changes, despite Greens being joined in opposition on the issue by activists from Extinction Rebellion, transport campaigners and even Labour’s former transport lead Mhairi Threlfall.

The Joint Local Transport Plan approved by the regional authority has been criticised by transport experts such as UWE’s Dr Steve Melia as while it contains references to public transport and other schemes, it only commits funding to road building projects. Decades of research on the phenomenon of ‘induced demand’ illustrates that far from reducing traffic, new road building schemes in fact increase congestion.

Reacting to the decision taken by the Combined Authority, Green councillors said the plan was “a defunct plan for a bygone era” that would only worsen congestion in the West of England and make it harder to tackle the climate crisis.

Councillor Steve Clarke chairs WECA’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee. In a statement to the meeting he highlighted uncertainties around timescales and decision-marking regarding the projects and schemes listed in the plan, and called on the plan’s projects to re-prioritised in light of WECA’s declaration of a Climate Emergency last year.

Politicians supporting the plan, such as Bristol’s Labour transport lead Kye Dudd, have suggested the plan is a ‘stop-gap’ and that it could be quickly reviewed to be made more climate-friendly. However, Councillor Clarke pointed out that the plan was a statutory document and that drafting a new plan or amending the current one could take years.

Reacting to the decision, Councillor Clarke said:

“Having previously raised that the plan was potentially illegal and certainly incompatible in part with the Paris Accords, I’m glad to see that wording has been altered accordingly. However I still have real concerns about the plan – there have been claims that the plan could be quickly reviewed however in reality this process would take at least a couple of years. In the meantime WECA and its authorities have all declared Climate Emergencies and the plan needs to do much more to reflect this.”

Green Councillor Martin Fodor was one of the few attending the meeting to present statements in person. He pointed out three dozen statements tabled to the meeting and a dozen questions - all challenging the lack of consensus among the authorities and the contradictions in the plan's policies.

He called for a resolution to set aside incompatible parts of the strategy and said:

“Decades of evidence are clear – building more roads just creates more traffic. By funding road building but not committing anything for public transport or cycling and walking, this plan will only make our region’s transport problems and the climate crisis worse. Not only that, many of the developments the new roads are meant to connect to have been cancelled and won’t be submitted again.

“This is a defunct plan for a bygone era – it prepares us for the past, not the future. Leadership means acknowledging when a mistake is about to be made, and changing direction, even if it’s difficult – by pushing this plan through and refusing to fix it first Marvin Rees and Tim Bowles have failed to pass that test.”

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