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Planners can effectively ignore climate change when deciding whether or not to grant permission for new road projects, environmentalists said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has pledged a £ 27bn motorway policy review to be completed within two years.
But in the meantime, planners can use existing guidelines.
Campaigners say they ignore the cumulative effects of major highway projects.
They say Mr Shapps should block new programs until a new climate-friendly policy is crafted.
Many scientists say that no new infrastructure should be built unless it is low carbon.
The debate arose because government infrastructure policies were designed before ministers pledged to virtually cut carbon emissions for the entire UK economy.
The political debate continues to catch up.
Currently, the guidelines for planners state: “Any increase in carbon emissions is no reason to withhold consent to development, unless the increase in carbon emissions resulting from the proposed program is so significant. that it would have a significant impact on the government’s ability to meet its carbon reduction targets.
Campaigners say the government needs to consider the cumulative climate effect of its entire highway program – not just individual projects.
They have been harassing Mr. Shapps for 18 months to update the road strategy to tackle the climate crisis.
He has now promised to see him again – but not for two years.
Chris Todd, Transport Action Network, said: “As our roads melt and places around the world face record high temperatures and flooding, the words ‘climate emergency’ seem to make no sense in the world. Ministry of transportation.
“Instead, all we seem to get is delay, delay and delay again. Having finally come to terms with the inevitable, Mr. Shapps continues to gamble as the planet burns down.
Mr Todd said the carbon test in the guidelines was “totally ridiculous”.
“The emissions from a road project, no matter how large, will never be significant compared to a five-year carbon budget for the whole of the UK,” he said. “It is high time the government corrected this ridiculous state of affairs.”
However, Edmund King, president of AA, said zero-emission cars will always need roads to run.
“So while it is correct to revisit the highway program and in particular the expansion of smart highways, it is naive to think that we would not need to address the bottlenecks and dangerous hot spots. “
Mr King, however, also wants a major government investment in rural broadband to reduce travel needs.
And Mr Shapps himself says he wants to get people out of their cars to reduce emissions and improve health.
A government spokesperson said that England’s Department for Transport and Motorways have both published “ambitious plans to achieve net zero highways”.
“This will enable the UK to rapidly reduce carbon emissions from road construction, maintenance and operation, and support the transition to zero emission vehicles – putting roads at the heart of the low carbon economy, ”said a spokesperson.
Among the projects awaiting approval is the Lower Thames Crossing – a massive project that activists say will produce more than 5 million tonnes of carbon emissions.
Other major programs include:
A428 Chat Noir in Caxton Gibbet
A66 North Trans-Pennine
Arundel A27 Bypass
A5036 Port of Liverpool
A57 connecting roads
Project to widen the A12 Chelmsford to the A120
Four A47 programs in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk
Campaigners also complain that smart highways, which allow vehicles to run on the emergency lane, are being treated as permitted developments without the need for a building permit or an impact assessment. carbon.
Emissions come from the creation of road construction materials such as cement, as well as gasoline and diesel cars and trucks that will use new road space.
Just last week, Mr Shapps told vacationers they could keep flying because the technology would fix aviation emissions.
This flies in the face of a recommendation from the Climate Change Committee that says ministers must curb the expected increase in demand for flights – as well as seek technological solutions.