TAN launches legal bid to stop UK government roads building plans – on climate grounds
The UK government’s £28.8 billion plan to expand Britain’s road network is set to be challenged in the courts. Lawyers Leigh Day, acting for Transport Action Network (TAN) have asked the DfT and Highways England to scrap their 5-year road building plan. The pre-action protocol letter was sent to the DfT on 9th April. This is partly on the grounds that it is not compatible with the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, and also breaches air quality legislation. TAN have retained the services of David Wolfe QC of Matrix chambers and Pete Lockley of 11 KBW, who won in the Heathrow case back in February, on the same climate grounds, of ignoring the Paris Agreement. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, launched the Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) in March, and it was described as England’s “largest ever” roads programme, and Tory manifesto pledge to spend on strategic roads. Spending money on more, bigger roads just acts to lock in future carbon emissions, by increasing road vehicle trips. TAN launched a £38,000 crowdfunder on April 21 to pay for the legal challenge.
Legal Bid Launched To Stop UK Government’s £29 Billion Road Building Plans
By Carlton Reid (Forbes) Senior Contributor
The U.K. government’s £28.8 billion plan to expand Britain’s road network is set to be challenged by the same legal team which, in February, halted the Department for Transport’s plan to expand Heathrow.
The Court of Appeal ruled Heathrow expansion plans were illegal because the Department for Transport had ignored the Paris climate agreement.
Lawyers acting for Transport Action Network (TAN) have asked the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England to scrap their five-year road building plan.
At its launch alongside the budget in March, the Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) was described by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as England’s “largest ever” roads programme.
A commitment to ramp up spending on mainly strategic roads was a key manifesto pledge in the Conservative party’s general election campaign last year. RIS2 revealed that £25.3 billion would be spent on freeways and A-roads, and £3.5 billion was pledged for major local routes.
TAN claims the plan breaches climate and air quality laws, and they have charged solicitors Leigh Day to act on their behalf. The firm has retained the services of David Wolfe QC of Matrix chambers and Pete Lockley of 11 KBW, the same legal team that was victorious in the Heathrow case.
TAN director Chris Todd said: “How can the DfT claim to take climate change seriously when it is set to burn billions on the ‘largest ever roads programme’ to make things worse?”
The campaign group will be launching a £38,000 crowdfunder on April 21 to pay for the legal challenge.
Part of the letter sent to U.K. Government from the Transport Action Network’s lawyers. TAN
Friends of the Earth (FoE) is to support TAN’s legal challenge.
“Pushing ahead with a massive road-building programme completely destroys any pretence of the U.K. being a world leader in fighting the climate crisis, or of bringing the clean air we all need,” said FoE’s Jenny Bates.
“More roads will only mean more traffic, and more planet and health-wrecking emissions being pumped into the air. The government needs to ditch its dangerous fixation with roadbuilding, and instead boost clean transport options such as trains, trams, bicycles and buses.”
In March, the DfT released a new plan to “decarbonize” transport. In a foreword, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said that “public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities” and that “we will use our cars less.”
This was hard to square with the road-building plans announced by the Chancellor earlier the same month.
Government ministers have also recently welcome the drop in motor traffic caused by the current lockdown.
Shapps told Sky News on April 17 that the “level of car use is the equivalent to 1955 and I must be the first transport secretary in history who celebrates the idea that there are fewer cars on the road.”
A statement from TAN said: “We now need to go to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the decision to approve RIS2. This will be the biggest ever legal challenge to roads policy in history and the Government will have top lawyers defending it.”
The statement added that the “same legal team that defeated the DfT over Heathrow has agreed to represent us at a discount.”
TAN wants the government to spend the money saved on road building plans to be “diverted into public transport, rail freight, cycling and walking.”
Rowan Smith, environmental law solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “Our clients question the appropriateness of proceeding now with Road Investment Strategy 2, which would mean vast amounts of carbon and pollutants emitted into the atmosphere, with inevitably disastrous effects on the environment.”
He added: “Our clients are therefore arguing that the government ought to have properly assessed the climate change and air pollution impact of these proposals before going ahead.”
Article updated on April 21 with statement from Friends of the Earth.
High Court challenge to England’s £27bn roadbuilding programme
A High Court challenge has been launched against government plans to invest £27.4billion in England’s strategic road network over the next five years, and to invest the money instead in sustainable travel, including public transport and cycling.
The legal challenge is being brought by Transport Action Network (TAN), which argues that the roadbuilding programme – described last month by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as the country’s “largest ever” – ignores commitments made by the government to tackle climate change.
In an article on Forbes.com(link is external), transport journalist and author Carlton Reid says that TAN has instructed the same lawyers that won a Court of Appeal case brought against the Department for Transport (DfT) by environmental campaigners to block the third runway at London Heathrow Airport.
In his announcement last month of the Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2)(link is external), Sunak revealed that the government planned to spend £27.4 billion from 2020-25 on strategic roads managed by Highways England.
That reflected an increase from the £25.3 billion allocated in the draft strategy, which also provided for spend of £3.5 billion on local A roads.
While accounting for just 2 per cent of the country’s total roads network, the major roads managed by Highways England carry around a third of all motor traffic in the country, and two thirds of lorry traffic.
TAN, which is launching a crowdfunding campaign this week to raise £38,000 to pay for its legal costs, insists that the government’s strategy conflicts with environmental laws as well as those aimed at tackling air pollution.
The campaign group is being represented by law firm Leigh Day, which has instructed barristers David Wolfe QC and Pete Lockley, who successfully argued against the government in the Heathrow Expansion case at the Court of Appeal.
Chris Todd, director of TAN, said: “How can the DfT claim to take climate change seriously when it is set to burn billions on the ‘largest ever roads programme’ to make things worse?”
In a statement, the group said: “We now need to go to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the decision to approve RIS2. This will be the biggest ever legal challenge to roads policy in history and the Government will have top lawyers defending it.”
TAN added that it wanted to see the planned expenditure on strategic roads instead “diverted into public transport, rail freight, cycling and walking.”
Leigh Day is acting for TAN. Rowan Smith, an environmental law solicitor with the firm, commented: “Our clients question the appropriateness of proceeding now with Road Investment Strategy 2, which would mean vast amounts of carbon and pollutants emitted into the atmosphere, with inevitably disastrous effects on the environment.
“Our clients are therefore arguing that the government ought to have properly assessed the climate change and air pollution impact of these proposals before going ahead,” he added.
In February, when TAN first said that it planned to take the government to court over its roadbuilding plans, a spokesperson for the DfT told BBC News(link is external): “We take our commitment to carbon targets immensely seriously and have one of the world’s most ambitious plans for reducing carbon emissions. We have developed our roads strategy alongside this.
“We’re also working hard to reduce the environmental impact of cars on our roads, with our ambitious plans to encourage the uptake of battery electric vehicles resulting in one sold every 15 minutes last year.”
The legal challenge, of course, comes at a time when the country is in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, with people urged to stay at home except for essential journeys, and road traffic has plummeted as a result.
With the government pumping money into initiatives such as supporting businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including funding furloughing schemes for employees, it’s likely that at least some of the pledges made by Sunak in last month’s Budget – including the investment in building roads – may need to be revised.