Urgent action needed on UK road transport air pollution crisis


a. The Industrial Strategy 'Ageing Society' Challenge aims to increase the lifespan of the elderly by some 5 years.  On the other hand the DfT Roads Investment Strategy will increase and lock in road transport air pollution (nitrogen dioxide and particulates) - currently responsible for some 40,000-50,000 premature deaths of elderly UK  residents each year.

b.  In order to ncrease the lifespan of the elderly,  the Government should address the current premature deaths caused by road transport air pollution urgently and assign other proposals a lower priority.  As a starting pouint,  all schemes in the current Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) should be assessed for compliance with the DfT modal shift policy (from road to rail).  Rail is a cleaner, safer,  low carbon transport option for both freight and passenger traffic and would also help to meet climate change legal obligations.

Why the contribution is important


a. In April 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that action should be taken to reduce road traffic air pollution as quickly possible and tasked DEFRA to produce a new Air Quality Plan by Dec 2015.  This Air Quality Plan was quashed by the Supreme Court following a legal challenge by environmental lawyers Client Earth and DEFRA was required to produce a new Air Quality Plan by April 2017 - some 2 years and 100,000 deaths after the initial Supreme Court ruling.  The latest Plan is widely regarded as ‘too little, too late’ as it transfers responsibility for action to local authorities in large cities but without associated funding as DEFRA’s budget has been severely cut.

b. On the other hand, Highways England (HE - a Government-Owned Company) and the well-funded Department for Transport (DfT) are facilitating an increase in road traffic air pollution by pushing ahead with their £15 billion Road Investment Strategy (RIS) despite concerns about health risks expressed by Select Committees, health professionals, environmental experts and local communities and a damning report from the National Audit Office about value for money of 16 of the schemes.


a. The consensus of scientific evidence of harm to human health of road traffic air pollution is now irrefutable and DEFRA agree that urgent action is needed.  But this issue is not restricted to existing roads. New roads induce new traffic and increase and lock in toxic air pollution (sustainable development issue) and carbon emissions (climate change issue).  Clearly, the environment and health impacts of planned new roads (including the A14 scheme) in the HE Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) need to be addressed to future-proof the Air Quality Plan.  See also the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) report ‘Potential reductions in congestion on the strategic road network from alternatives to HGV use’- 2015 and the CPRE report ‘The End of the Road’- 2016.

b. The Government has committed funding for these HE road schemes but that does not mean that the plans (approved or not) are set in stone.  The RIS states clearly:    

 Section 3: Key Investments on the Strategic Road Network                                                           (p27)  “In some instances, the development of schemes over the course of the road period may bring unexpected issues to light.  This could mean that in limited cases individual commitments may need to change or adjust.  If this happens Ministers will be required to confirm that the revised proposals continue to meet the overall objectives of the scheme, or that they provide an alternative way of tackling the problems targeted.”


a. The UK Industrial Strategy includes a new Rail Freight Strategy which will presumably comply with DfT modal shift policy (road to rail), EU TEN-T freight routes strategy and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).  Additional investment in the Felixstowe – Nuneaton rail freight route (as per the BCG multi-modal scheme) would reduce A14 congestion, road traffic air pollution and carbon emissions along the whole length of the A14 corridor.  The BCG multi-modal scheme won support and some £25 million  funding from the EU vice-President for Transport in 2009 and is also reflected in the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) which provides funding for EU freight routes based on rail, ports and multi-modal platforms (including Felixstowe-Nuneaton). 

b. The BCG scheme is a much less costly altrrnative to the HE scheme and could provide the additional funding needed to complete the upgrade of the Felixstowe-Nuneaton rail freight route. Value for money of both schemes is currently under consideration by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Eileen Collier - BCG- a residents association

21 May 2018


by eileencollier on May 21, 2018 at 03:53PM

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  • Posted by GHibbs May 21, 2018 at 18:06

    It would be good to see canals being used far more for freight in the specific ways that canals can take freight off the road and rails.

    Garbage transfer straight from collection vehicles to canal side (with basic hardstanding) can hugely reduce the costs and pollution of queuing time to offload. Collections of businesses with nearby canal access can have deliveries and services by canal, avoiding and reducing road congestion.

    Spoil from and supplies to infrastructure developments with waterside access can hugely reduce lorry journeys through built up areas.

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