• Government faces legal challenge over road building policy

  • The Department for Transport’s £27billion programme to expand England’s road network, including projects such as the Stonehenge tunnel, the A46 Newark bypass and the Lower Thames Crossing, has been criticised for being out of line with the Government’s environmental policies.

    Lawyers for the campaign group Transport Action Network (TAN) have sought a judicial review of the national policy statement on national networks (NPS), which underpins the DfT’s road building programme.

    According to a BBC investigation, court papers suggest that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps chose not to review the NPS after he was advised by civil servants to do so.

    Lawyers for Transport Secretary Grant Shapps have asked in a letter for more time to decide if he is willing to review the roads policy on environmental grounds. This move is the first “chink in the armour" according to campaigners, as until now, Mr Shapps has been unwavering in his insistence that the roads programme is compatible with up-to-date climate change targets.

    A Department for Transport spokeswoman said civil servants were examining the fine detail of the roads policy before the legal challenge from TAN.

    It is the latest legal battle by environmentalists challenging government infrastructure policy in the light of the decision in 2019 that the whole economy must move towards almost zero emissions by 2050.

    Plans for many road schemes precede the upgraded emissions targets and environmentalists say the continued expansion of transport infrastructure from roads and HS2 will make climate targets impossible to achieve.

    That is partly because of the extra traffic the roads will induce and partly because of the emissions from the steel, tarmac and cement used to build new transport capacity.

    The government says vehicle emissions per mile will fall as zero-emissions cars take over Britain’s roads. However, environmental consultancy, Transport for Quality of Life, claim that 80% of the CO2 savings from clean cars would be negated by the planned roads.

    They further claim that a major element of air pollution has been identified as particulates from tyres, which would be worsened by more traffic — even with a transition to electric fleets.

    The government refutes the consultancy’s figures.

    Meanwhile, according to the BBC, environmentalists are particularly concerned about the role of Mr Shapps. On the one hand he announced that to combat climate change people must drive less but on the other hand he is an enthusiastic proponent of new roads.

    They say in the past year he has over-ridden planning inspectors’ advice to refuse permission for roads, including a scheme in Hull, the tunnel at Stonehenge and the dualling of the A303.

    They also suspect that he is about to over-ride the planning inspector and allow a scheme at the M25 junction 10 / A3 Wisley interchange.

    Mr Todd from TAN commented: “It's unheard of for the Planning Inspectorate to recommend withholding consent on so many road schemes. The road schemes being proposed by Highways England are clearly inadequate.”