Tuesday 12 August 2014

Road building – Its yesterday once more!

Nostalgia is not, as they say, as good as it used to be.  The current push for new roads seems to harp back to an imagined golden age when, it was thought, all you had to do was invest in infrastructure and everything would then be fine. 

Indeed, if I remember correctly, around the mid 1990’s there was a proud boast of the biggest road building programme since the Romans left.  So, as there seems to be some attempt to live in the past again, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the level of environmental damage that would have resulted from this previous rush for roads.

Going from east to west the list of devastation seems almost unimaginable today:

First at Rye there were proposals for a major road changing the character of the old town and extending across Rye Harbour.  This would probably have impacted on a Special Area for Conservation - an internationally important wildlife site appreciated by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. 

Then a road was proposed to run the length of the beautifully tranquil Brede valley, devastating the wetlands there before sweeping through the ancient woods north of Hastings and carving across the Combe Haven Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

Then there was a proposal for a dual carriageway running across Pevensey Levels and through our own nature reserve.  Again Pevensey is an internationally recognised wildlife site and one of the most important wetlands in the whole of Britain, to say nothing of its historical interest and landscape quality.

Further west there were proposals to run a length of dual carriageway from Eastbourne to Lewes through what is now the National Park. 

Then we got to Worthing and proposals for a dual carriageway cutting through the Downs and passing under Cissbury Ring – a fantastic Iron Age Hill fort and also a nationally important wildlife site.  The quiet setting here would have been destroyed in a futile effort to push traffic away from Worthing itself.

A little further west and of course there was a cluster of proposals to run a dual carriageway through the largest ancient woodland on the coastal plain in order to build an Arundel bypass.

It didn’t stop with the south coast trunk road either.  A recognition that this would drive congestion elsewhere meant that proposals for new roads throughout Sussex came thick and fast.

“Improvements” to the A24, A23, A22 and A21 going north–south, some of which have now happened some have not.  But a dual carriageway was gong to be run through Ashdown Forest, the biggest heathland in the south east, appreciate by thousands and again internationally important for wildlife. 

An A272 upgrade was proposed, that would have impacted at several places, including our own nature reserve at The Mens near Wisborough Green and driving up traffic through several villages. 

There were even suggestions for an “outer” M25 running roughly through the middle of the Weald of Sussex to relieve the pressure on the current M25.

I suspect that half the people reading this today might say that it couldn’t be that bad these days.  The other half might feel that a road building programme like this is a good thing.  We need roads, so wildlife, once again, will have to be compromised.  But look again at the ever expanding list and, even ignoring the destruction of rural Sussex, you don’t see a solution, you see a treadmill.   What starts as just a little bypass here and there ends up as a treadmill with travel increasing and congestion getting worse.  Road building is not a solution – it is a politically expedient waste of public money.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

There’s never been a traffic jam on the M25!!

One of the most worrying features of the current rush for road building is the severe lack of strategic thinking in the proponents. 

The solutions put forward are surrounded by the appropriate jargon – “route-based strategies”, “transport infrastructure”, “strategic road network” and so on – but they are all basically knee-jerk reactions.  Traffic jams are predicted and a new road is pushed as the answer.  Predict and provide in its simplest form. 

A bypass here, a dual carriageway there, then it all needs expanding again.  Some wish to see the whole south coast with dual carriageways of motorway proportions along its length.  Bigger, then bigger again until we have something like the M25 running through Sussex – and after all, as well all know, there has never been a traffic jam on the M25!

Simplistic road building strategies fall apart when you start to consider what then happens.  Build a road in one place and the jam just moves to somewhere else – and demands increase for a new road there as well.  Traffic then increases elsewhere and again road developments are demanded.  Environmental damage is bad in one place, but magnified up by all the increasing demands for new roads and it becomes much worse.

This would be bad enough with a constant level of traffic, but new roads generate new traffic.  Even if one location is eased, people will then perceive the slight ease in congestion so will travel more often, so increasing traffic.  Those who believe that new roads will reduce congestion are fooling themselves.  A few favoured locations may be relieved, but overall the level of traffic throughout Sussex will increase.

Bear in mind also that many are proposing these roads specifically to drive an increase in traffic.  Road building is wanted in order to “unlock areas for development” – to enable more of the countryside to be built on.  Tarmac over part of Sussex so you can concrete over other parts.  Development may be needed, but this has to be carefully designed sustainable development, not just a rush to build roads and houses.

So what are the answers?

First we have to question a few “truths” we are told.  Road traffic is not shooting upwards, indeed some think that road traffic has peaked across the developed world.  People are finding other ways of gaining access to their needs and a focus back on roads risks bucking an otherwise good trend.  Also I’m old enough to remember nearly 20 years ago we were told that if we didn’t get bypasses round Arundel and Worthing then the economy would collapse.  20 years later we have been through a period of strong economic growth.  Sussex did not become destitute.  We were told cycling would never increase – it did.  People wouldn’t use buses – they do.  There would never be more people working from home – there are.  Teleconferencing is impractical – it isn’t.  And so on.

The truth is, as we’ve learned many times before, you can’t build your way out of the problem.  Answers have to be sophisticated not simplistic.  They may include some minor on-line improvements to roads, but to ease flow not to add capacity.  Improvements to public transport will be part of the mix and, as most journeys are short, cycling and walking are perhaps where some large gains could be made.  But the key long term solution is to reduce the need to travel – modern technology, developments in communication, management systems improvements integrated planning and so on all aiming to reduce travel.

We live in a small over crowded part of the country, imagining that there is always unlimited space to expand roads into is a dream world.  Building roads to add to the congestion is no solution.

Monday 4 August 2014

Fracking and River Management

One of the concerns about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is the potential impact it might have on the water environment.  Large amounts of water are needed as the injection fluid in the process and the waste water flowing back then has to be disposed of.  This clearly has implications in terms of the available water resources and then there are concerns in relation to how large quantities of polluted water are treated.  In turn this could have impacts on the ecology of rivers, water bodies and the way they are managed.

An excellent article written by Simon Dixon on “The River Management Blog” reviews the current state of knowledge regarding this aspect of fracking.  I strongly recommend those with an interest in the subject to take a look at this blog (and, bearing in mind the possible threat to the Sussex countryside “those with an interest” should include the entire population of Sussex!).