Monday, December 31, 2012

More road building? Listen to Hedgehog

The current issue of Private Eye has a column by 'Hedgehog' dissecting the deficiencies of Coalition transport policy that is worth studying.

Hedgehog points out that this policy is now effectively decided by George Osborne, who is on record as saying that new roads will equip Britain "to compete in the modern global economy".

Not so, says our spiky columnist:
Actually the modern economy in developed countries, including Britain and the US, is characterised by stagnating or falling volumes of road traffic as people find more efficient ways of working, shopping and socialising than devoting huge slices of their income and time to car travel. Some have rediscovered the logic of living close to work and services rather than on sprawling estates where everything is a car journey away. The internet and mobile telephony increasingly influence how and whether people travel.
Hedgehog goes on to consider the influence of various business leaders on Osborne's transport policies, before pointing out:
Britain's massive road-building spree from the 1950s to the early 1990s has allowed retail chains - including Next - to turn British high streets into carbon copies of each other at the expense of locally owned shops and pubs. 
What happens in retail is mirrored in less visible sectors where supplies are transported vast distances, allowing economies of scale to crush local producers. Being able to send juggernauts from distribution hubs to every corner of Britain certainly creates wealth for Wolfson and other captains of industry - but not necessarily for the UK as a whole. Many of Britain's poorest areas have abundant roads.
I have a lot of sympathy for this analysis, and the Coalition agreement has a lot to say about increasing the influence of local people over planning. Nothing of that approach now survives in the pronouncements of ministers. And in housing at least, Nick Clegg seems as keen on development without local consultation as any Tory.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

Road building is in effect a subsidy to the retail chains and other big corporate concerns. They gain disproportionately from road building (and maintainence) and pay little towards it.

For a US centred take on this (the detail may differ, but the general principles are the same), see Kevin Carson writing in The Freeman: