It’s possibly the worst time Osborne could have announced his plan for £15bn of spending on new roads.
Why? Because this week, international climate change negotiations are taking place in Lima to set the stage for next year’s pivotal Conference of the Parties (CoP21) in Paris – potentially our last hope for sticking to the IPCC’s two degree warmer world.
But let’s be clear. There’s no way we can stick to that commitment if the RAC’s estimates of seven million more cars on the road by 2030 proves correct. If it does, it will be the government’s doing after this week’s announcement.
£15bn is a lot of money. With it, the government will fund 84 new schemes that will plough through English land to create 1,300 miles of new lanes.
Osborne said it would ‘transform some of the country’s most important strategic routes’ – and it certainly will, particularly when it rips through countryside and promotes further greenhouse gas emissions, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England have pointed out.
Coupled with the continued freeze on fossil fuel duty over investment in renewables, it’s a disaster for the environment.
These plans were published in the government’s first ever comprehensive ‘Road investment strategy’. Where’s the strategy to comprehensively green the transport sector?
The European Transport Workers Federation note that across the continent, a clear plan to reduce transport emissions by 80 per cent would create seven million new jobs. That would include tens or even hundreds of thousands in the UK. Yet the Conservatives’ heads remain firmly in the sand – no doubt partly because of the surge of a climate-sceptic UKIP.
Unbelievably, the government have even taken to boasting about the increase in car and lorry journeys – putting out infographics that will make people choke on their coffee (if there’s any still able to be grown) in a generation’s time.
It’s encouraging however, in some ways, to see the launch of a new National Infrastructure Plan. The problem is that, in Osborne’s own words, it will focus on ” roads, railways, airport capacity, power stations, waste facilities, broadband networks.”
Just about the only thing worth cheering here is railway investment, though having just sold off the successful East Coast franchise, it’s hard to see how this will be coordinated.
Of course, spread over five years, these disruptions will ironically just mean years of road-works chaos for drivers.
It will be done with money that should be being used to fund a reversal of slashed bus services in rural areas, a massive rollout and extension of tram and metro systems in cities outside London, and a cycling revolution that would localise travel and cut down the shocking levels of air pollution that are emerging in Britain.
Even more revealing is the reaction of the government’s so-called opponents. Labour challenged the government not on the principle of the need to move away from cars as a form of transport, instead focusing on the claim that the investment was from previously-announced ‘old money’.
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: “If ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists”.
It was left, instead, to the Green Party to call out the plans, describing them as ‘short-sighted and retrograde,’ with local transport spokesperson Caroline Russell arguing:
“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.”
Caroline Lucas also weighed in: “Instead of scrapping air passenger duty for children, the chancellor should be protecting children with urgent action on climate change.”
There was plenty more to be angry about – broader austerity being the obvious one – but the chancellor froze fuel duty, cut flight taxes and gave a £94m tax cut to oil companies drilling in the North Sea – enough to put a solar panel on every school in the UK twice over.
Ellie Mae O’Hagen of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies put it best:
So Osborne is either is a climate change denier, an idiot, or a sadist. Either way, it will be future generations that will get hurt by this budget’s moves against the planet.
This statement took us back to Thatcher’s folly of the ‘80s, before we knew the full extent of climate change. It was stupid back then. Now, it just looks vindictive.