Transport secretary Grant Shapps failed to follow official guidance that called for a review of the environmental impact of the government’s £27bn Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2). A legal challenge is currently being brought by Transport Action Network (TAN), arguing that the road building programme ignores commitments made to tackle climate change.
In March 2020, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that the government planned to spend £27.4bn between 2020 and 2025 on strategic roads managed by Highways England.
TAN is seeking a judicial review of the plans, arguing they conflict with environmental laws as well as those aimed at tackling air pollution.
“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?” said director Chris Todd, summing up the group’s position.
As for the detail, a TAN spokesperson explained: “We're challenging the Government's refusal to review the national policy that governs planning approval for new roads (National Policy Statement for National Networks) (NPS). Currently it doesn't allow decision makers to seriously consider climate change.”
Shapps decided to go against civil service advice to review the NPS – a decision that was reportedly only revealed to TAN at the last minute.
In court papers seen by the Guardian, David Wolfe QC wrote: “On the day before the limitation period for issuing this challenge was due to expire, the defendant provided the claimant with the advice of his officials, which was that it was appropriate to review the NPS.”
Wolfe added: “The claimants have been presented, on the one hand, with official reasoning in support of a review, and on the other, with a decision by the defendant not to review the NPS, with no explanation of why, or on the basis of what information or considerations, he chose to depart from his officials’ advice.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “The advice to the transport secretary set out that the criteria for a review of the NPS had not been fully met. The department is unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”
Todd said: “The largest ever roads programme and world-leading emissions cuts were always the strangest of bedfellows.
“Far from ‘building back better’, the government’s £27bn roads plan would pollute communities, tear through treasured green spaces and turn up the heat on the planet, while making congestion worse. Our legal challenge seeks to end this nightmare and prioritise what’s important to people.”