The CCC’s Report 2023
Briefing journalists at the Glastonbury Festival (Friday 23 June) ahead of publication of the Climate Change Committee’s annual progress report, outgoing chair, Lord Debden, was unequivocal.
‘The government should halt all new roads unless there are exceptional circumstances,’ he told the Guardian. ‘New roads inevitably increased traffic and emissions.’
The actual report from the CCC (an independent, statutory body advising UK governments on emissions targets, and reporting to Parliament on progress made in reducing Co2 emissions), published on 28 June, was more circumspect. And, on first perusal, anyone looking for closely-argued key sections that finally dispatch the Government’s roads programme, and in particular the Stonehenge scheme, might be disappointed.
The 437 pages of the report contain a wealth of analysis and scrutiny of progress, or lack of it, and recommendations for action on every possible carbon-related activity, from shipping to farming, from electric batteries to home heating. There are just two short paragraphs on roads, on pages 128 and 420. But the report’s message is, potentially, no less transformative for being brief than if we were reading a senior civil servant’s argument developed at length.
The report’s two paragraphs of advice on new road building
‘At a UK level, various road-building projects have recently been pushed back due to fiscal headwinds. The Government should launch a more strategic review (similar to the Welsh Roads Review) to assess whether these projects are consistent with its environmental goals (recommendation R2023-148, page 128).
On page 420, recommendation R2023-148 calls on the Government to:
‘Conduct a systematic review of current and future road-building projects to assess their consistency with the Government’s environmental goals. This should ensure that decisions do not lock in unsustainable levels of traffic growth and develop conditions that permit schemes to be taken forward only if they meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of Net Zero and climate adaptation. (Primary responsibility: DfT).’
The Welsh Roads Review outcome recalled
Referring to the Welsh Roads Review, the report notes: ’The Welsh Government accepted the recommendations of its independent Roads Review, which included cancelling 31 of 48 road projects reviewed (and reconsidering the merit of a further six) on environmental grounds and introducing stringent tests that will only permit new road projects if they will meaningfully contribute to modal shift, reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. This is a welcome step which should contribute to reducing traffic growth.’
So, the ‘death knell for the government’s road-building programme,’ as the Guardian surmised? But, as Andrew Boswell and others point out in Twitter conversation, the Government is not obliged to follow the CCC’s advice, and, habitually, in the past it has not.
And yet we are at an interesting stage in policy-making. For the first time in history, since the Romans set their thoroughfares straight and true across the land, those in authority are being advised by their statutory advisers to stop building roads.
And if, despite all, the government finally signs off the Stonehenge A303 works, any subsequent legal challenge may be strengthened. National Highways, for its part, has already spent more than £200,000 in legal fees on its case for the Stonehenge project, a freedom of information request revealed this week (June 29th).
- Progress in reducing UK emissions 2023 Report to Parliament, Climate Change Committee June 2023. https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Progress-in-reducing-UK-emissions-2023-Report-to-Parliament.pdf.
- Welsh Government response to the Roads Review, February 2023. https://www.gov.wales/welsh-government-response-roads-review-html.
- ‘Revealed: National Highways spend on legal fees to defend its RIS2 road schemes’, New Civil Engineer, 29 June 2023. https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/revealed-national-highways-spend-on-legal-fees-to-defend-its-ris2-road-schemes-29-06-2023/?eea=UEJpTTVTa0t0MEJyampHY0VLQ2h2NHpTZk9qeFl0YW9rdDQ0eWpMTjNaND0%3D&utm_source=acs&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=CONE_NCE_EDI_ALL_MORNING_290623&deliveryName=DM154036.