Greenpeace questions value of roads to the economy

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE BUILDING of NEW ROADS do not bring economic prosperity in its wake and may even cause an area's economic decline, a new study by Greenpeace reports. argues.

Using both existing studies and new evidence from UK employment patterns, the author, John Whitelegg, sees concludes that there is no evidence for the argument to support the contention that heavy spending large amounts of money on roads improvements improving roads is a necessary prerequisite to for economic growth and This challenges the conventional wisdom accepted view that has underpinned successive governments' transport policies for the past 50 years and which currently has led to present record spending levels of pounds 2bn a year on new major roads.

Mr Whitelegg says the key component of economic growth is new firm creation of new businesses, rather than the movement of existing businesses, firms and cites seven studies from different developed nations that found no link between business firm formation and improved roads. infrastructure.

Looking at British towns, Mr Whitelegg suggests that Birmingham with its 'ample supply of motorway connections is not a conspicuous economic success', and Edinburgh, with far less motorway linkage than Glasgow, 'has certainly not suffered economic decline' in comparison with its Scottish rival. Mr Whitelegg quotes a number of studies which pointing out that improving transport to remote areas may lead to such regions losing economic investment as they become easier to reach from centralised factories and depots.

Mr Whitelegg assessed changes in job opportunities, and , the number of people chasing every job vacancy, for different areas and found that, for example, Doncaster, less than 20 minutes from the M1, had only a fraction of the rise in job opportunities experienced by Grimsby, 50 minutes further away from the M1. Skegness and Horncastle in Lincolnshire both 90 minutes from the A1 did better for jobs than Newark-on-Trent on the A1 in Nottinghamshire.

while Swansea and the Port Talbot and Neath areas in South Wales - both equidistant from the M4-M5 junction have experienced very different economic fortunes. with The Port Talbot and Neath are has done doing more than 70 per cent better than Swansea.

In recent During the past few years, Labour has moved away from the cross-party consensus in support of road building by suggesting a halt to all schemes while a review of their economic benefits is undertaken. However, Frank Dobson, Labour's the party's transport spokesman, said yesterday: 'I do not accept the argument that there is no relationship between accessibility and economic benefit. Looking round the world, Countries with good communication links are more affluent than those with poor links.'

Paul Everitt, assistant director of the British Roads Federation, which is supported by many road building companies, said: 'We have never said that good road links are sufficient. It's just one of the things people look at when considering where to invest.' He added that Grimsby was a major an important port, close to good road links, and could not be compared with Doncaster.

Roads, jobs and the economy; from Greenpeace, Canonbury Villas, London N1 2PN; pounds 2 50.