Twenty years ago the M3 motorway was extended through Twyford Down near Winchester, a beautiful and ecologically rich landscape. A tunnel rather than a cutting was possible, but it was rejected because it would have cost £75 million more. There can hardly be anyone involved in that decision who does not now regret the destruction of Twyford Down.
New roads will devastate the countryside
The shame of Twyford Down played a large part in ending plans for the biggest road building programme since the Romans. In the wake of Twyord Down, new roads were resisted across the country by direct action protestors – remember Swampy? At the same time, a consensus emerged that road building was not the best way to end congestion. New roads tend to create new demand, filling quickly. Road widening tends to move traffic jams along the road, rather than ending it. But now, it seems, road building is back in vogue.
Unaccountable bodies are promoting 200 new roads
The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the new Transport Secretary want new roads – and the Opposition has put up remarkably little opposition. The Roads Minister supports a new South Coast Motorway (the Bexhill-Hastings link road, through stunning countryside, has already been approved) and a new ‘Varsity Motorway’ to link Oxford and Cambridge (a mad professor’s pipe dream – imagine the protests that one would cause). And the CBI is calling for private toll roads to fund a road expansion (according to an earlier CBI report, ‘the colour of growth is green’, but in this case it appears to be the colour of tarmac).
Almost 200 new major road schemes are now being promoted by the Government, local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships, the shadowy, unaccountable bodies set up to replace Regional Assemblies. If even a fraction of these new roads get funding, they will have a desperately harmful impact on the countryside, grabbing land and destroying tranquillity. They will also make it harder to meet our climate change commitments.
Fighting for the countryside
Of course, there can sometimes be a case for a new road scheme, but CPRE, the Campaign for Better Transport and other bodies will be fighting hard to defeat this new major road building programme. Let’s improve the potholed and poorly surfaced roads we already have before we start driving new roads through our precious and vulnerable countryside.
Chief Executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England
First published in The Countryman