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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little