Campaigners plan legal challenge against £27bn RIS 2

21/04/2020
Dominic Browne

Environmental campaigners have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £38,000 to take the Department for Transport (DfT) to court and block the second road investment strategy (RIS 2).

The Transport Action Group plans to launch a judicial review with the High Court against the roads programme on environmental grounds, in the wake of a similar successful challenge against Heathrow expansion.

In a statement, the group said: 'This February, the Court of Appeal ruled Heathrow expansion plans were illegal because the Department for Transport (DfT) had ignored the Paris climate agreement. In light of this historic judgment, we wrote to the DfT to ask it to rethink road plans but never even received an acknowledgement. Instead, it went ahead and published RIS2.

'Scaling back RIS2 to focus on maintenance would allow money to be diverted into public transport, rail freight, cycling and walking. We would have cleaner air and less risk of runaway climate change. With more funding, local councils could finally tackle potholes on their existing roads.;

Speaking to Highways, a spokesman for the group said: 'Primarily the legal basis is the process for the RIS 2 was started back in 2015 and there is no way when they started they could have taken into account the Paris Agreement, the net-zero target and the issues around air quality.

'Roads that are currently compliant with the air quality limits could become non-complaint and roads that are non-compliant could take a longer time to be compliant.'

He added that maintenance work around concrete pavements or potholes, for instance, was 'entirely legitimate' but any network expansion plan should be dropped in favour of moving the cash towards local roads maintenance and encouraging a modal shift to more sustainable transport.

'There may be exceptions but the premise should be maintenance-only and any enhancements should be under close scrutiny. Expansion should be a matter of last resort.'

The Heathrow judgement ruled that plans for a third runway were unlawful as they had not taken the Paris Agreement into account. Former transport secretary Chris Grayling had apparently received legal advice that this was not necessary.

However, campaigners may find a much tougher challenge on the RIS 2. It does not make explicit reference to the agreement but it does make commitments on decarbonisation, environment and air quality.

The Draft RIS was published in October 2018 set out the Government’s objectives for RIS2 following what the DfT claims was the 'biggest exercise ever undertaken to inform national road investment'. which began in 2016 the same year of the Paris Agreement.

In the foreword from secretary of state Grant Shapps and roads minister Baroness Vere, the RIS 2 states: 'Only where existing roads are simply not up to the job the country asks of them are we asking Highways England to develop wider, realigned or, in a few cases, wholly new roads to keep people and goods moving.'

The RIS 2 document sets out a long list of enhancement schemes, however, it also outlines decarbonisation plans and air quality ambitions.

One of Highways England's key performance indicators (KPIs) is to: 'Bring links agreed with the Department and based on the Pollution Control Mapping model into compliance with legal NO2 limits in the shortest possible time.'

It also has a KPI to 'reduce Highways England’s carbon emissions as a result of electricity consumption, fuel use and other day-to-day operational activities during RP2, to levels defined by baselining and target setting activities in 2020-21.'

And its Environment and Wellbeing designated fund is set at £345m, much larger than any other designated fund, with £216m set aside for Innovation and Modernisation, £169m for Users and Communities and just £140m for Safety and Congestion.

Overall, the RIS 2 sets aside around £14.1bn of its £27.3bn total for enhancements but this covers of the enhancement of existing structures as well as new roads.

The Department for Transport has been approached for comment.

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