Friday 25 July 2014

Using Less, Living Better

With economic development seemingly drifting back into a 1960’s model of unrestrained expansion, ignoring the environmental consequences, it is refreshing to realise that there is a large movement now towards a far more strategic approach to development. 

In my last blog I criticised an approach to road building that is based on the assumption that continued expansion will cure our problems.  This is a symptom of a bygone approach – prosperity can only be provided by continual physical expansion.  We live in an overcrowded county, in a highly populated country, in a world that is living far beyond its ecological limits.  Damage to wildlife is a symptom. 

The old-school approach is to carry on regardless and hope we can wrestle just a bit more GDP growth out of a reluctant natural world.  To read much in the press one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the only development model on offer.  However, as David Attenborough said, continued expansion in a finite world is only believed possible by madmen – and economists!

This old fashioned approach, however, is not the only game in town.  Solutions are being found by people with a much more strategic view about the future and this is exemplified by West Sussex’s “Environment and Climate Change Board” – an independent board established by the County Council a few years ago. 

The approach taken by the Board is summed up in the mission statement “Using Less, Living Better” – a simple but fundamental statement and, when you think about it, if we meet this aim then the world does have a future!  The Board is chaired by Russell Strutt who has now written an excellent blog investigating some of these concepts.  I would very much encourage people to read this, and maybe look at some of the sources he quotes.

Our battle against the environment looks like something we are in danger of winning!  Read Russell’s article for an alternative view.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Roads to nowhere

They say that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it – and so it goes with road building. 

Blowing a thick layer of dust off plans that have already failed several times, an A27 Action group has now formed to promote major road expansion across Sussex.  This seems supported by a s so-called evidence gathering exercise is now being rushed through by Department for Transport.  This will effectively tell us where the traffic jams are (I thought we already knew that!); this skewed exercise – only investigating traffic and only asking about road constraints - is designed to come up with the answer of more roads.

We’ve been here before – many times.

That proposed roads will damage the environment is unarguable.  Likely outcomes include devastation of ancient woodland, construction of dual carriageways through the National Park and the ignoring of climate change implications.  At a time when we should be enhancing our natural environment, rebuilding our natural prosperity and achieving major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, these proposals simply take us in the wrong direction.

Other lessons forgotten from history include the point that roads like this do not even achieve the narrow objectives set by their proposers.  The “predict and provide” approach of yesteryear has re-emerged on the na├»ve basis that if you predict where the traffic jams are going to be, expand the roads at those points then all the problems will magically disappear. 

The opposite tends to be the case. New roads generate new traffic.  Even in the unlikely event that the current traffic hot-spots might be eased, the effect of this will be to draw more traffic into the area generally.  More traffic through the lanes and villages of the National Park, more traffic and congestion in the cities, towns and villages along the A27 corridor.  Another turn of the treadmill with the following demands for yet more road building.

The reason for this is obvious.  If any one of us thinks that traffic jams are a little less likely then we will simply use our cars a little more often.  This phenomenon of generated traffic is well-known, although seems to be forgotten in current plans.

The pity here is that there are some in the economic sector that seem unable to think at a strategic level.  We live in a small, heavily populated county.  Transport will always be constrained.  Building an economy on the principle of moving more goods and people over longer distances will always be a vulnerable economy.  Instead we should be looking to the already good work being done to massively improve energy and resource efficiency, far greater use of IT and digital technology and far better integration of transport with planning. 

Approaches like this, and many others, should aim to deliver environmental prosperity and economic growth in ways that reduce the need to travel.  Setting us off in the wrong direction yet again is just a distraction from the sort of progress we should be looking for.