The Letter

Open Letter to the Government

To: Rt Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, Rt Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Greg Hands, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth

Halt the Road to Nowhere

We demand the Government: 

  • Tell the truth about the devastating impacts of its massive road building programme (RIS2) on carbon emissions, people’s health and nature. Tell the truth about electric car manufacturing and the harm caused by car dependent societies
  • Act Now to review the Transport Strategy, halt new road building, set targets for reducing car use and invest instead in a green, integrated public and active transport system, in all areas
  • Enact regional Citizen’s Assemblies on transport so that people are involved in the process of change

Transport emits more carbon than any other sector in the UK

Transport accounts for over a third of the UK’s carbon emissions, and is also the only sector that has increased its emissions since 1990. Road surface transport contributes the biggest portion of these emissions – over two-thirds.1 The Climate Change  Committee (CCC) reports that these need to fall by 90% by 2050 to meet the economy-wide Net Zero target.2 The government’s transport strategy needs urgent review. Based on the UK’s legal obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Paris Agreement (2015), the current £27.4 billion RIS2 road-building programme (the ‘largest ever’ says the chancellor) must be halted. This plan is in contradiction to the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan as it will increase emissions by approx. 20 million tonnes. What we do in the next ten years is critical. Sir David King, the ex Government chief scientific advisor, says the next 3-4yrs actions will determine keeping below 1.5C increase. A strategy that relies on the phasing out of fossil fuels cars in the 2030s and 2040s will derail the short and medium-term targets for decarbonisation of transport. Switching to electric vehicles also has inherent problems that contradict the 2050 Net Zero targets. 

We call on the government to cancel the £27.4bn RIS2 programme (to be spent by 2025 and followed by RIS3 and RIS4 totalling 90bn by 2035)5 for England and spend the money instead on:

  • cheaper more reliable public transport
  • walking and cycling networks
  • increasing rail freight
  • electrification of the existing rail network
  • roads maintenance
  • reduce the speed limits on all types of road
  • electrifying coaches and buses
  • minimum hourly rural buses
  • set a target for reduced car use by 2030

New roads – impacts on carbon emissions, nature and society

Evidence, since 1925, shows clearly that new roads induce demand – for example, the M25 exceeded its long term forecast for traffic growth within months of opening.7   The Government’s own SACTRA report of 1994 proved conclusively that new roads induce new traffic, whilst the End of the Road report by Transport for Quality of Life for CPRE (2017) evidenced, from 80 road schemes, that traffic growth massively exceeded the predictions used to justify schemes. 

The carbon impacts of road building must be properly accounted for as outlined in the Transport for Quality of Life report, July 2020.9 These include loss of carbon sinks such as trees and habitats, carbon caused by the construction process (concrete and steel) and from extra traffic and higher speeds. Each of the 50 new schemes planned in RIS2 has huge carbon emissions as discovered by Transport Action Network, using Government data.10 

New roads will also mean a loss of ancient woodland, veteran trees, and result in the severance of habitats and communities. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in Europe. Roads fragment habitats, cars kill a huge amount of wildlife annually11 and disrupt natural animal behaviours.12 Ancient woodland and veteran trees must be preserved. It is not enough to plant saplings in compensation as it takes many to sequester the same carbon as a mature oak.13

A truly net zero strategy would set a target for reducing car use. Scotland has a target of 20% less car use by 2030 and Wales has committed to 45% of journeys to be made by either public transport or active travel by 2040. We can reduce car use by reallocating road space towards active travel in and between urban centres and making public transport cheaper. Roads are astronomically expensive to build, taking money away from what is needed – a comprehensive, cleaner transport system. 

Electric cars – only part of the solution but still problematic

Electric vehicles (EV) are the government’s preferred means of decarbonising road transport – and they are of course part of the solution, but electric cars in particular, are still problematic:14  

  • All car manufacturing is carbon intensive, but EVs emit much more due to the battery production. Production of a petrol or diesel car emits 7 tonnes CO2, but an equivalent sized EV emits about 10 tonnes.15 The trend towards SUVs makes this even worse with some up to 35 tonnes of carbon emissions.16
  • Most road miles over the next ten years will still be used by fossil-fuel vehicles.17  The cuts needed cannot happen fast enough by just relying on a switch to EVs alone. 
  • There are currently 39 million cars on the road and the Government’s plan is to replace them with 40 million EVs. Will a renewable energy grid even support that number?18 A 20% increase in electricity generation would be needed, placing huge strain on the grid.19 Heavier vehicles will also cause increased costly road damage.
  • The rare minerals requirements just for the manufacture of EV car batteries for the UK market would exceed some of the world’s current available resources according to the Natural History Museum. To meet the government’s EV targets for 2050 would be totally unsustainable and has serious ethical and human rights issues e.g. child labour in the Congo20
  • Air pollution from particulate matter (PM) is a public emergency says the World Health Organisation 5 µg/m3 is the safe limit.21 EVs are on average 24% heavier which increases PM emissions.22 PM from tyres, brakes and road surface wear can be a thousand times worse than exhaust emissions. The government wants a full scale transition to EVs – without stating that the simplest and most essential way to decarbonise and clean our air is to reduce the total number of car journeys between 20-50%.23
  • Car tyres have a huge environmental impact: from the monocropping and extraction of the rubber, the PM accounting for ⅓ of all plastic waste in the oceans and then the horror of disposing of 1.5 billion used tyres annually – so often sent to places like Kuwait where they are burnt in huge pyres.24 25
  • There will be no reduction in road danger and road casualties – currently with five deaths and 60 serious injuries a day, in the UK, this is a tragedy and a consequence of car dependency that we should never tolerate or hide.26 
  • Private car dominance of our roads is a barrier to safe walking, cycling and bus efficiency
  • It is predicted that because EVs are much cheaper on mileage, drivers will increase the number of journeys taken, increasing road danger and congestion, putting people off cycling and walking, and efficiency of bus journeys. Traffic problems will be exacerbated. 
  • E-bikes and E-cargo bikes are 30 times more energy efficient than EVs27 due to the lighter weight and size of the bike.  Private cars are highly inefficient using 2 tons of metal to move a single occupancy driver weighing 75kg. Whereas a cargo bike can move around many times its own weight, powered by a person. Support for E-bikes as shown in France, with their scrappage scheme, should come before pushing a market for private EVs.28
  • Continuing with a car dependent transport model will exacerbate the inactivity crisis and the burden on the NHS.29 
  • New housing development plans underpin the government’s drive for more roads and more cars when in fact all new housing should be making bikes, buses and trains the preferred mode of transport.

Children are the chief victims of excessive traffic

Children suffer most from air pollution from transport – because their developing lungs can be stunted, and when walking, their heads are closer to the sources of emissions.30

They would also benefit most from enabling active travel – reducing obesity and improving health. 

Parents cite road danger as the main factor that deters them from encouraging their children to walk and cycle.31 In 1971, a study showed that 80% of 8 year-olds went to school on their own. This was not because their parents did not own cars – just over half of households had access to one. There was a different attitude to children’s independent mobility 50 years ago; road danger is a major factor in parent’s restricting children’s freedom and independence to go to school alone and play in the street.32

Funding outside London

In a bid to ‘level’ up Northern cities and address disparities with London transport, the government has allocated £7bn funding for alternative forms of transport. However, this amounts to only £1.5bn of new money for public transport and active travel. This is wholly inadequate in a climate emergency33 . RIS2 money should be reallocated away from road building and towards the public transport needed for levelling up in the North. Meanwhile, the only transport budget for schemes outside of cities is a ‘pipeline’ of 50 local road schemes as announced in the Autumn Budget 2021. Also, fuel duty has been frozen for the 12th year – making driving always the cheapest option.  


Despite legal challenges, community campaigns, and the evidence of increased carbon emissions, the government continues to push on with its road-building plans despite admitting some of the inherent issues in its Transport Decarbonisation Plan34. The Net Zero Review should have set targets for rapidly cutting car use and road transport emissions to meet the UK Government’s legally binding climate targets of 78% by 2035. The current plan is completely inadequate for a climate emergency. It’s time to depart from old thinking that has driven a car-dependent transport system at the expense of a comprehensive, UK wide public transport and active travel network. It’s time to think beyond mere profits for existing industries, and instead reskill workers in new greener forms of transport implementation. Stop the culture wars around transport, we need to bring people together to talk about solutions. Involve citizens in deciding the way forward through forms of deliberative democracy. It can be done. We call on the Government to implement our three demands immediately.

Tell the Truth. ACT NOW. Enact Citizen’s Assemblies.

Roads Rebellion 

November 2021

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21. AND










31.,  p.121.
32. Children’s independent mobility: a comparative study in England and Germany (1971‐2010), London: Policy Studies Institute, p.15.


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