Editorial: Chancellor takes a wrong turn

The 'greenest government ever' ought to be doing its best to get the most out of existing roads

Share
Related Topics

"Fix It First" is the name of a $50bn (£32bn) programme of road and bridge repairs announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address at the start of this year. It was based on the simple idea that repairs would stimulate the economy more quickly than building new roads, railways or airports. Work on repairs can start straight away, without going through planning and consultation stages, and will employ mainly low-skilled workers, while the benefits of free-flowing traffic are immediate.

So why is George Osborne so wedded to announcing new road-building in this country? He has done it in his last two Budgets, and, as we report today, he is intending to unveil yet more major road schemes in his Spending Review next month. He wants new lanes on the A1 and a new toll motorway to take traffic off the M4. Those are, we suggest, the wrong priority.

This is not simply because clearing the £10.5bn backlog of pothole repairs would be faster and more effective in increasing economic activity. There are three other reasons why The Independent on Sunday thinks patching up our pockmarked roads makes more sense than building new ones.

Overall, road use has been falling for the past five years. This is a consequence of the recession, probably with an element of the growth of shopping on the internet. So even those people who struggle with the apparent paradox that building new roads creates more traffic should be able to grasp that additional capacity is not where new resources should used first.

Second, a model of economic growth built on permanently rising road traffic is an environmentally flawed one. The "greenest government ever" ought to be doing its best to get the most out of the existing road network, rather than adding to it. Road traffic may not be the greatest source of carbon emissions, but there is no need to build over more green countryside to add to them.

Third, it is worth noting that there is one group of people that suffers more from potholes than car users and that is cyclists. It is cyclists who swerve into the road to avoid the ones they see and who go head-first into the ones they don't. If we want to encourage cycling, filling in the potholes is a priority. And if we want to encourage walking, a form of exercise on the wane, as we also report today, we do not need to build new roads.

The "Fix It First" programme in America is not just about roads and bridges, though. Surprisingly, for the original car-based civilisation across the Atlantic, the programme there includes spending on public transport. Again, this is sensible, and spending on buses, light railways and rail improvements puts people to work and produces economic benefits of connecting people and businesses more quickly than huge infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2, which isn't even planned to be finished until 2033.

The road schemes that Mr Osborne either has announced or intends to announce may not take until 2033 to complete, but they will take years. It is in the Chancellor's electoral interest, therefore, to put resources that are available into unglamorous repairs rather than prestige projects.

Mr Osborne once complained that Labour failed to "fix the roof while the sun was shining". As the sun is shining today, perhaps he should think of the transport system as a roof. Our message to him is: fix it first.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test