Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Road Wars

Road Building In Chaos

Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 19.

As a part of his ‘greener’ transport policies, Brian Mawhinney, the Transport Secretary, announced last December that, of the 22 road-building schemes due to commence by 31st March 1995, nine would be held over leaving 13 to go ahead.

It appears however that under a combination of political pressure, cost overruns and administrative chaos only six of these schemes have begun.

Staff at the Highways Agency, responsible for overseeing the £2 billion roads programme, say that Dr. Mawhinney’s lack of political direction is a major factor in the chaos. His attempt to distance himself from the pro-roads stance of his predecessors (notably John McGreggor) have seen him initiate a national transport debate and consider a Green Paper on transport policy.

There can be no doubt that the chaos in the Department of Transport and, in particular, The Highways Agency, is as a result of the hugely successful anti-road protests and a consequent growing awareness in Britain that more roads mean more cars mean more pollution. Mawhinney knows that the arguments against road-building are now overwhelming, he also knows that the powerful road-lobby can no longer get away with a carte blanche on government transport policy.

However, as yet, there are no solutions being offered. Road plans have been shelved, not axed, road pricing is being dismissed, increases in the cost of petrol will not penalise the biggest polluters and will simply mean the rich can use their cars whilst the poor have to rely on deteriorating public transport. Fashionable debates on energy tax, restricting carparking in inner cities, banning cars from inner cities, creating legislation for ‘greener’ engines and improving public transport come and go but nothing even vaguely substantial has been done. Road and rail privatisation moves ever onward and bus deregulation now sees companies fiercely competing for popular routes while services on quieter, less- profitable routes deteriorate.

Mawhinney’s reputation within his own department is also deteriorating. His intentions may be good but unless ministers and civil servants support him his ideas will never be acted on. It would be just as easy to replace Mawhinney as it was to replace McGreggor. The next Transport Secretary might not even have the intentions, let alone the support, to ‘green’ the DoT.

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