Given there is a climate emergency, you would have thought that climate change would be a critical issue in any road scheme assessment. Well you’re wrong. It isn’t. Planning inspectors and the Secretary of State have to effectively ignore carbon emissions because of the way that planning policy is worded.
Unless the carbon emissions from a single road scheme are so huge as to potentially undermine the UK Government’s ability to meet it’s carbon budget in any particular period, the scheme cannot be turned down on climate change grounds. This is clearly a bonkers test. It was written to pretend that the Government is serious about climate change, but in reality it is a farce. Unless a new road went from the south coast to the Scottish border, it’s unlikely there would be a road scheme big enough on it’s own to derail the Government’s progress on reducing carbon emissions.
To put this carbon test into perspective, no other aspect of any proposed development has to go through the same challenge. In order for a development to be approved, it doesn’t have to show that the jobs it will create are so significant as to make a substantial difference to the UK jobs market, or the economic benefits so huge they significantly increase the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
To give you an example, we looked at the A303 Stonehenge scheme, which does have a larger construction emissions than most new roads because of the tunnels. Total (user and construction) emissions represented 0.0265% of the 4th carbon budget and 0.00789% of the 5th carbon budget. So pretty small compared to the overall national carbon budgets, even though in themselves they were quite substantial.
However, if you think these are irrelevant then consider what the economic benefits of the scheme are. These work out at approximately £14 million a year. As a percentage of GDP this equates to 0.000755%. That is at least ten times smaller than the smallest carbon figure! [Note: this is being extremely generous as it ignores the fact that for this scheme the costs of building it far outweigh any economic benefits]
As to direct jobs, (which peak at 300 during construction), these work out at 0.00092% of total UK workforce, hardly any different. Accepting that some other jobs may result indirectly from the road, these would have to be fairly substantial to make much difference to these percentages.
So there you have it, a carbon impact significantly greater than the economic benefits, yet one (the smaller figure) is considered an important factor in a scheme’s assessment while the other (the bigger – carbon – figure) is dismissed as irrelevant.
This is why the National Networks National Policy Statement is out of date and fundamentally flawed and needs urgent review.