“More than two-thirds of drivers think removing the hard shoulder puts those who break down at greater risk”

Investment in roads: prioritise the environment—and driver safety

More than two-thirds of drivers think removing the hard shoulder puts those who break down at greater risk
January 24, 2020

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges faced across the world. Debates previously held in the abstract are moving into devastating reality. 

So I stand by the Labour Party’s pledge to put tackling climate change at the heart of both our transport and wider economic policy, not least because since 2010 the policies of Tory governments have done so much to undermine sustainable transport.

On road investment the government’s approach has been chaotic. Ministers claimed the Road Investment Strategy for motorways and major A-roads between 2015 and 2020 would “revolutionise the network.” In fact, one in three road projects included in the strategy have been cancelled or delayed. These deferrals will jeopardise the next stage of the plan, to be delivered by Highways England between 2020 and 2025. Doubts also remain over finance, given the government’s abandoning of PFI and uncertainty around the value for money of flagship projects such as the controversial Stonehenge tunnel.

I believe that road spending should focus on providing more capacity for sustainable transport, such as bus priority provisions and integrated transport schemes. We need to develop a more holistic approach to transport funding, rebalanced geographically across the UK. 

Labour committed to repurposing Vehicle Excise Duty to establish a sustainable transport fund. Such a fund could provide £550m per annum for walking and cycling routes, £1.4bn a year to fund free bus travel for under 25s where bus services are deregulated, and £1.3bn a year to restore the 3,000 bus services lost—and deliver an additional 3,000 on top. The fund would also have delivered £500m a year to fund local road improvements and maintenance. Most journeys start and end on local roads and they are used by cyclists and pedestrians too, so fixing potholes and better maintaining these roads ought to be a priority.

The government’s record on road safety is alarming. Three years ago, the Transport Select Committee warned the government about the dangers of all-lane running, where the hard shoulder is open at busy times or even all the time, to ease congestion, with emergency lay-bys staggered along the road. 

I remain significantly concerned about the safety implications. Indeed, a recent RAC survey found that more than two thirds of drivers think removing the hard shoulder on motorways puts those who break down at greater risk. The government says it is conducting an “evidence stocktake to gather facts.” I say, shouldn’t it have done this before it rolled out more than 230 miles of all-lane running?

Five deaths on Britain’s roads every day, with over 10 times that number seriously injured, is a scandal we have too readily come to accept. It’s an unacceptable price to pay for the convenience of car use. That’s why Labour called for a “target zero” approach to deaths on roads—we need not accept these deaths and injuries as inevitable.

The UK’s roads have suffered from a decade of mismanagement under the Conservatives. We need a significant refocusing of approach, to deliver the meaningful changes so urgently required.