Budget 2018: Anger as Hammond's £60m pledge to plant trees is dwarfed by £30bn road spending plan

'Tree planting is important but no substitute for tackling road emissions'

Jane Dalton
Monday 29 October 2018 00:29
Sean O'Grady, Rob Merrick and Cait Morrison discuss the upcoming budget

Environmental campaigners have condemned the chancellor's budget plan to spend £60m on tree planting while £30bn is being pledged for roads.

They highlighted the contrast between the money the government is vowing to spend on improving green spaces and how much it is putting towards infrastructure that they fear will encourage driving and damage the environment.

Philip Hammond will announce in the budget that £60m will be spent on planting millions more trees across England, including a project to plant new street and urban trees set to receive £10m.

The remaining £50m will be used to buy carbon credits from landowners who plant woodland, the Treasury said.

But hours earlier, the government revealed it would be putting £30bn – 500 times as much – towards roads.

That money – ringfenced vehicle excise duty – will be used to upgrade and repair major routes including motorways, as well as fixing potholes.

But it may also go towards building new roads.

Liz Hutchins, Friends of the Earth campaign director, said: “Reforesting Britain needs root-and-branch reforms in the way we use land, not just a few million quid for saplings.

“It’s good that the government are finally putting some money behind their tree-planting pledges -although this is just a tiny fraction of the money pledged for roads.

Tree planting is important but no substitute for tackling road emissions

Dustin Benton

“We need to double the UK’s forest cover if we’re going to avoid climate breakdown, and this won’t be nearly enough money."

Dustin Benton, policy director of environmental think tank Green Alliance, said: “The transport sector is the only sector in the UK where emissions rose last year so spending a lot on roads while maintaining the fuel duty freeze and reducing what we spend on electric vehicles is probably a bad decision.

“On transport, we’re heading in the wrong direction. Tree planting is important but no substitute for tackling road emissions.”

Tom Fyans, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, welcomed the commitment to tree planting but added: “The disparity in investment between grey and green infrastructure contradicts the prime minister’s environmental ambitions.

“Rather than spending tens of billions on new road schemes, which completely undermine the tokenistic amount spent on environmental gestures such as tree planting, this money would be better invested in rail travel and other forms of public transport, which would actually help to reduce carbon emissions.”

The £10m going on urban trees is to be matched by contributions of funding and assistance from local authorities, community groups and charities, Mr Hammond is due to say.

Sean O'Grady, Rob Merrick and Cait Morrison discuss the upcoming budget

And the incentives paid to landowners are expected to create about 10 million new trees over the next 30 years, according to Treasury figures.

As a key part of biodiversity and ecosystems, trees provide vital habitats for birds and other small wildlife, and in towns and cities have been shown to help residents’ mental health.

The Treasury said trees in urban environments provided valuable environmental services and enhance cities’ green infrastructure, adding: “Urban trees can also improve amenity and property values, slow surface water run-off, and can help absorb air pollutants.”

The Budget is also expected to approve a study on a new Great Thames Park in the Thames Estuary.

A Treasury spokesman said the £30bn spending on roads being announced in the budget did include money for public transport.

The Transforming Cities Fund, which supports projects such as new buses, trams and cycling routes, will be extended by £680m.

It was just one part of the government’s longer term 25-year environment plan, and he pointed out the Tories’ 2015 manifesto included a pledge to plant 11 million trees in England by 2020.

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