A Message To George Osbourne
You can please some people some of the time…you know the rest.
One of the things that Chancellor George Osborne is determined to push through, despite concerns at the very highest level from his fellow MPs, other ministers, think-tankers and Department for Transport (DfT) officials that there is little proof that it will kick-start or even boost the economy, is massive nationwide road-building programme; or The Independent on Sunday has reported.
And all this at a time when the public money, it is suggested, could be used to “mend Britain's crumbling highways and local streets.”
He’s not going to win is he? It’s a lose-lose situation with ministers warning that roads such as the one (the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road in East Sussex) that Mr Osborne pushed through at a cost of £57m that wound its way controversially through an environmentally and archaeologically important stretch of countryside with little proof that there was any value for money involved as building work prepares to start. And there are serious rumours that The Chancellor, at his Comprehensive Spending Review next month, will be announce plans to build more major new roads as part of his plans to stop a triple-dip in the recession and perhaps start green shoots of recovery. But advisors think that the planned new A1 lanes and toll motorway to ease congestion on the M4are more likely to dig up those shoots rather than nurture them.And those concerns reach over into the state of the UK’s roads, despite road use steadily falling for at least the last five years. There is a backlog of £10.5bn worth of repairs to roads still outstanding, but George (I can call you George, can’t I?) is ignoring the fact that this is a mere fraction of the new build costs, and that it rides roughshod over the Governments promise from 2010 to be “the greenest ever.”
(It does seem to be of a bit; Margaret Thatcher's "great car economy" of the 1980s, so perhaps it is a legacy in her “honour?”)
Maybe Mr Osborne should cast an eye over the pond to the USA where Barack Obama has launched a "Fix It First" programme that has set in motion the wheels of fixing things rather than building new ones.
More details of the "Fix It First" $50bn (£32bn) programme of road and bridge repairs that were announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address at the start of this year were revealed in the Independent on Sundays Opinion column – and it is stunning in its simplicity when it comes to economy stimulation. Based on the idea that repairs would stimulate the economy more quickly than building new roads, railways or airports, it also realises the fact that those repairs can be out into operation straight away, rather than having to wait for planning permission and going through the laborious (but necessary) consultation process, and will also more than likely be employing primarily low-skilled workers (no offence!) whilst at the same time – after a little while – traffic that could be free-flowing and hasn’t been, will be again.
Have you got that bit George? Then have a look at these ‘facts’ as presented by The IOS.
Overall, road use has been falling for the past five years – victim in all probability of the recession (as people can’t afford petrol or diesel) and the rise in internet shopping. According to the DfT's figures, cars and taxi road use has fallen from 247.3m on the roads in 2007, to 240.2 billion in 2012. If you look at ALL motor vehicles, including vans and motorcycles, it reduced over the same time period from 314.1 billion vehicle miles to 302.6 last year, down 3.7% - as rail use increases at a steady 3% a year.
And then there is the promise that was made to be the "greenest government ever." Use of existing facilities would be a lot greener than destroying fields, woodlands, and wildlife habitat; making nonsense of the current economic growth model being followed that relies on permanently rising road traffic.
And finally, cyclists want to see less potholes. They are the road users that swerve into the road to avoid holes, not to mention going headfirst into then – not to test depth!
It should be mentioned that the "Fix It First" programme also has money put aside for public transport improvement, aiming to spend money on buses, light railways and rail improvements that take people to work faster and quicker.
With High Speed 2 also in the proverbial pipeline this year, Mr Osborne wants to do it – and like the naughty child who stomps about moaning about something he/she is not allowed to do it before doing it again, George will continue to meet with union reps and the like before doing it anyway!
Stephen Joseph, head of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Instead of reviving zombie road building plans, the Government should be investing in alternatives. We should maintain our existing roads properly, invest in affordable, reliable public transport and support cycling and walking."
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "When it comes to spending on roads, the Chancellor is swamped with options. Even before you consider new capacity, there are plenty of old problems to fix, including the maintenance backlog. Mileage has slipped in recent years but it would be wrong to be blinkered by these figures. Before the recession, car travel was growing in every region of the country except London."
So who is going to use the new roads that The Conservatives are looking to build?