Research from our fellows

May 13, 2022

The case for a new approach to transport appraisal

Professor John Whitelegg was appointed FIT Senior Fellow in 2020.

Road safety

The need for clear, consistent, robust, independent, peer-reviewed information on claims made for road schemes has always been strong and is now stronger than ever.

The Foundation organised a webinar on transport appraisal and carbon on 27th April 2022:

First in a new series of FIT webinars

One of the issues raised by John Whitelegg and other participants in the webinar was the case for a new approach to appraisal based on validated science and evidence. The current approach to appraisal is dominated by assertions and assumptions that are not supported by evidence and lead to outcomes that are contrary to high level public policy objectives including transport decarbonisation (Appendix 1).

Current approaches to appraisal do not deliver robust, independent, testable, science-based evidence in support of road schemes. Examples of the failure to deliver evidence-based conclusions include 9 dimensions of unsupported assertions:

  1. The new road will reduce carbon emissions (Appendix 1) and the assertion that any individual scheme will be responsible for less than 0.001% of total transport emissions and can be ignored
  2. The new road will reduce congestion and increase journey time reliability
  3. The new road will not contribute any significant amounts of additional traffic (induced traffic)
  4. The financial case for the new road is strong as a result of a benefit cost analysis based on the calculation of time savings and the value of the time saved
  5. The new road will reduce deaths and serious injuries in road traffic crashes
  6. The new road will reduce air pollution
  7. The new road will boost local economic performance (inward investment and jobs)
  8. The new road will make it possible to provide improved cycling infrastructure
  9. The new road has been evaluated and compared with a number of non road building options that could potentially solve defined transport problems.

The impact on increasing carbon emissions of new road building at the same time as declarations of a climate emergency require a total refresh of appraisal so that it is based on validated science and testable evidence. This this is what a total refresh might look like and how it would work:

  1. A new organisation with a clear remit to scrutinise claims made in support of road building would be created by statute. This could follow the example of the Welsh Government Commission for Future Generations (Appendix 2)
  2. For the purposes of this discussion the new organisation will be referred to as “The Commission”
  3. The work of the Commission will be limited to England and to new road building and all schemes and projects that have the effect of increasing highway capacity
  4. The new organisation would not include responsibilities for rail, ports or airports
  5. The new organisation would follow the example of the Welsh Government Commission for Future Generations” and would function as a Commission charged with delivering the Nolan principles of public policy and governance (Appendix 3)
  6. The new organisation would have a permanent secretariat with adequate staffing and budgets and would be steered by a Board
  7. The Board would consist of experts with experience of research, analysis and publications in peer-reviewed journals in all the areas of impact policy quoted in support of road schemes
  8. Board membership would be open to applications from suitably qualified experts with a track record of research and publication in areas relevant to the case for new roads
  9. All applications for Board membership would include a declaration of interest that would cover the detail of any activity related to promoting or opposing road schemes
  10. The Board would have powers to scrutinise the case made for road building projects and call for evidence from all interested parties and to form an opinion on the case made for the road
  11. The Commission would issue an opinion on whether or not the claims made for the road project are supported by evidence, not supported by evidence or in need of further research
  12. Any member of the public would have the right to refer a road scheme or proposal proposal to the Commission, and the Commission would have a legal duty to give its opinion on the evidence presented in support of the proposal
  13. The Board would have the funding and authority to commission research into any aspect of transport policy and funding that would assist it in its work of scrutinising proposals and expressing an opinion on whether or not a particular scheme is likely to achieve its stated objectives and has considered all options and alternatives in addition to road building
  14. The Board would include the consideration of non road building alternatives in its scrutiny of the case for a road scheme and this would include evidence-based measures to deliver behavioural change in transport choices and fiscal interventions (road pricing, congestion charging, parking charges and workplace parking levies)
  15. The Board would publish an annual report listing all the schemes it has examined and its opinion on the soundness of the evidence base in support of that scheme
  16. All planning applications and public inquiries into proposals for new roads or increases in highway capacity must be accompanied by a statement from the Commission setting out its views on the evidence. It will be unlawful for a scheme to go forward to a planning committee or a public inquiry without this statement.

Appendix 1

All road schemes contain elements of assertion, wishful thinking and unsubstantiated claims e.g. the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road:

“Through recent design changes, the carbon impact of the construction of the NWRR has been reduced from 70,452 tonnes of CO2e to 48,233 tCO2e. Over its life time (2022-2082) the operation of the NWRR is expected to generate a reduction of 21,521 tCO2e”

Source: Professor Mark Barrow, Director of Place, Shropshire Council, 20th April 2022

Appendix 2

“The Welsh Government Commission for Future Generations gives us the ambition, permission and legal obligation to improve our social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being and to prevent persistent problems such as climate change.”

Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 – The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

Appendix 3

The Seven Principles of Public Life (also known as the Nolan Principles) apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and all people appointed to work in the Civil Service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), and in the health, education, social and care services. All public office-holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources. The principles also apply to all those in other sectors delivering public services.

The principles include “Objectivity”, holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
“Accountability”, holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
“Honesty”, holders of public office should be truthful.

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