NewcastleGateshead’s Roads to Nowhere

We would like to publish the excellent statement by the Green Party on NewcastleGateshead Core Strategy Examination and Transport Policy. The strategy sets the vision for our city and region for decades to come. The Green Party’s reply sits snugly with our views. We thank the Green Party for these astute observations, to make public these salient points about the councils’ plan on rampant road building and how it will impact on everyone. Or like Lewis Mumford would say: adding highway lanes to reduce traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.

Headlines
• Planned new roads and new road lanes [i] are no solution
• Serious threat to public health from poor air quality caused by traffic levels
• 124 deaths occurred in Newcastle alone last year due to air pollution (4.9% of all deaths of people over 25) [ii]
• New roads will make many problems worse
• Green Belt loss bigger than feared

In the film ‘Field of Dreams’, it is said: if you build, he will come”. In today’s session on Transport in the Examination in Public of the Newcastle-Gateshead Core Strategy development plan, the Highways Agency and the planners said: “Build” (more roads and more road lanes). It is no dream to imagine that they “will come” (more cars and, then, yet more cars).

And, in a few years, things will be back to square one, as has happened with the A1 Western bypass where extra lanes are now being planned. In other words, the Highways Agency and the planners ignore the negative power of ‘positive feedback’. More ‘supply’ (more road space) will only trigger more demand (more cars and other private vehicles).

The proposed solutions are in fact non-solutions. Indeed the problems will be badly aggravated by the proposals in the Core Strategy for large-scale out-of-town building. This is not positive planning. Mitigation in the form of cleaner car engines, something flagged up by one planner today, will have little impact in the necessary time frame. Most vehicles on the road over the next few years will be today’s models.

The Core Strategy now being examined proposes the concreting of field after field on the urban fringes. It will cost vital green spaces. Already nearly 10% of the Green Belt is to be concreted over. Today, 12 June 2014, the planners admitted that this already excessive figure did not include Green Belt land that will be lost to new roads. Building on the targetted greenfield sites will also generate even more unsustainable levels of car traffic, more congestion and more air pollution, with very negative consequences in terms of public health and of the area’s contribution to dangerous climate change. [iii]

The Core Strategy aims to encourage some 9,000 people to live on the west side of the city, not in North Tyneside. Yet the east side of the conurbation has better public transport networks, not least the Metro system. Again the fundamental unsoundness of the plan is evident.

Meanwhile many local residents are rightly angry about very inadequate consultation and transparency as well as extremely thin details on proposals regarding what was called today “a series of link roads” on the north-west side of Newcastle.

The real solutions lie in other measures. Instead of squandering huge amounts of public money on more roads/road lanes[iv], investment should deliver:

• Radical improvements to public transport, including the regeneration of rail lines in the Ashington-Newcastle and the Leamside line down to Washington and Durham;
• More space and safer space for cyclists;
• More catering for pedestrians;
• A new spatial strategy, plus other social and economic policies that encourage ‘localisation’ as well as more working from home, all of which will reduce the need to travel and therefore curb congestion
• And, of course, no major building beyond the current built-up area with, instead, a really determined effort to sustainably redevelop inner city brownfield sites and empty properties, near to improved current public transport networks.

Shirley Ford (pictured above) is the Green Party regional co-ordinator, and added :

“The Core Strategy has not been positively prepared. If it had been, there would be bold and urgent action over the threat from worse air quality and extra carbon emissions. This is unsustainable development of a very backward-looking kind. The growth model that underpins the whole strategy will mean that all the problems it claims to be addressing will simply come back at a later date. In other words, in a few years time, we will end up debating the addition of yet more lanes to the A1 and yet more roads elsewhere. We have to look to very different models of what really does constitute a sustainable city and a high quality of life for all its citizens. Current schemes are like loosening the belt on obesity. They are not the cure”.

Foot notes

[i] Current proposals include the widening of the AI, albeit with narrower lanes as well as a series of link roads on the NW side of the city, including, it seems, the A69-A696 and A1. Often, consequential development follows in the footsteps of new roads, as in the area just to the west of the entrance to Newcastle race course

[ii] Figures from Public Health England. The European Commission has initiated legal action against the British government over the hazards posed by poor air quality in the UK. See:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/20/air-pollution-european-commission-legal-action-uk-nitrogen-dioxide

[iii] The 2014 IPCC report documented just how serious is the threat from human-caused climate change, much of which is driven by the transport sector. Recent news of losses from the ice sheet in Antarctica were described by one American NASA scientist as a “holy shit” moment (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/west-antarctic-ice-sheet-collapse)

[iv] The Highways Agency has provided some figures yet big road schemes seem rather prone to major cost overruns: The Humber Road bridge has an overrun of 276%. See:http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/capital-projects-infrastructure/pdf/pwc-correcting-the-course-of-capital-projects-v3-pdf.pdf. Of course proposals to extend the Metro might encounter such problems but at least they point in a genuinely sustainable direction.