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Shapps unveils review of national policy for major road and rail

Words: Huw Morris

The government is to review the National Policy Statement (NPS) for major roads and rail in the light of environmental initiatives and the impact of Covid-19.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the current NPS on national networks was written in 2014 - before the government’s legal commitment to net zero, the 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, the sixth carbon budget and recent policies outlined in the transport decarbonisation plan.

Trends already under way in home-working, online shopping and video-conferencing, all of which had reduced trip rates before the Covid-19 pandemic, “have dramatically increased and seem unlikely to be fully reversed”, he added. These trends must be set against the effects on road demand of the “hopefully temporary move away from public transport during the crisis”, increases in delivery traffic, and the onset of electric and autonomous vehicles.

The Department for Transport (DfT) will begin the review later this year and aims to complete it no later than spring 2023. This review will include “a thorough examination of the modelling and forecasts that support the statement of need for development and the environmental, safety, resilience and local community considerations that planning decisions must take into account”, the DfT said.

“Reviewing the NPS will ensure that it remains fit for purpose in supporting the government’s commitments for appropriate development of infrastructure for road, rail, and strategic rail freight interchanges,” Shapps added.

The NPS will continue to provide the basis for examining and deciding applications for development consent while the review takes place.

Campaign group Transport Action Network, which has launched two legal challenges against the DfT over its roads policy, said local communities opposing road schemes soon discover that the NPS’s policy on climate change “effectively means that carbon impacts are not considered when scrutinising new road proposals”. Extra emissions from individual schemes are compared to national carbon budgets, “allowing any increases, however large, to be dismissed as ‘insignificant’”, it added.

“Existing policies, which allow climate change to be effectively dismissed as a consideration when assessing new roads, will remain in force,” the campaigners said.

“We suspect the DfT will want to delay any changes to the NPS for as long as possible to allow it to bulldoze through the many controversial road schemes in its £27 billion roads programme.”

Image credit | iStock