A greener vision for major roads: will RIS2 rise to the challenge?

A greener vision for major roads: will RIS2 rise to the challenge?

As the Government develops the next Road Investment Strategy, there’s a lot of talk about technology and growth, with smart motorways and ‘mile a minute’ expressways connecting new homes and jobs and growing the economy.

But what kind of strategic road network do we need for a sustainable future? That’s the question Campaign for Better Transport’s new report Rising to the Challenge seeks to answer.

Our report sets out a shared green vision for the nation’s major roads, developed in partnership with sixteen other NGOs. It shows how the network can be enhanced not expanded, to be better for people and the environment, with examples of best practice from the UK and around the world.

We set out three priorities for RIS2.

Firstly, we advocate a ‘Fix it first’ approach, to focus on the roads we have rather than building new ones. We want to see investment in the bread and butter issues of road maintenance, safety and signage and in upgrading the network to meet the latest design standards from cycling provision to energy efficient lighting.

Fixing roads is not just about pothole repair. Continuing the programme of ‘green retrofit’ that has started in RIS1, mitigating the impact of major roads on the natural environment and public health is also a priority. Thanks in part to the designated funds we helped secure, RIS1 has begun to deliver some improvements, but there’s much more to be done.

Highways England projects like the improvements to the Droitwich Pools under the M5, and the plans for a green bridge over the A38 at Haldon Hill are inspiring. Using natural drainage systems and protecting wild flower verges may grab fewer headlines, but will pay dividends in terms of future resilience.

Secondly, we want to see a more integrated approach, redesigning roads to join up better with local transport, walking and cycling, and not forgetting equestrians. Too many communities find major roads are more of a barrier than a bridge: refocusing on ending severance and reconnecting communities with accessible routes along desire lines makes sense. So does ensuring that new or upgraded roads work for public transport users, with safe locations for bus stops, better connections to Park & Ride sites, and bus priority at key junctions.

Thirdly, we believe RIS2 is a great opportunity for demonstrating environmental leadership.  National targets on cutting CO2 emissions, improving air quality and securing no net loss of biodiversity are for all sectors, not just highways. But getting roads policy right will be critical to delivering them.

We are calling for RIS2 to contribute proactively by rolling out electric vehicle charging points, working in partnership with local authorities to deliver Clean Air Zones and implementing environmental management systems across the family of Highways England contractors.

Alongside these policy ideas, we are proposing a comprehensive set of performance metrics which progress from measuring activity to measuring impact: such as assessing the ecological status of waterways not just how many culverts have been upgraded. We’re proposing new ways of measuring the impact of roads on landscape and heritage assets and calling for HE’s Design Panel to review schemes in sensitive locations. And we want to see environmental problems tackled at source: noise-reducing surfaces bring much wider benefit than double-glazing.

Highways England has faced some challenges over the deliverability of a construction-heavy RIS1 which includes controversial new road building through protected landscapes. Following our approach in RIS2 would bring innovation and opportunity for the highways sector, reduced conflict with communities and a better outcome for the environment we share.

Roads have a huge impact on our surroundings and our quality of life. RIS2 will shape that impact for years to come. By taking on board the expertise that green NGOs have to offer, the strategy can live up to the Government’s pledge to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.

Rising to the Challenge: a shared green vision for RIS2 is published by Campaign for Better Transport, with support from British Horse Society, Campaign for National Parks, ClientEarth, CPRE, Cycling UK, Friends of the Earth, Living Streets, Noise Abatement Society, Plantlife, Ramblers, Sustrans, The Heritage Alliance, The Wildlife Trusts, UK Noise Association, Woodland Trust and WWF.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport will talk further on raising the bar on environmental ambitions within the main conference at the Highways UK during the afternoon of 8 November.


Bridget Fox

Bridget Fox – Sustainable Transport Campaigner, CBT