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Pucklechurch News Article - September 2017

M4J18A - East or West Is Not the Argument

New roads help ease congestion and take traffic away from villages and towns… right?  Not according to an analysis of completed road schemes conducted for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). Evidence from a study of new road schemes concludes that they generate traffic rather than reduce it. Basically, if you make it easier to use a road, more people will use it.  And that also means more traffic on the roads around the scheme.

One of the faults in traffic studies used to justify new roads is the failure to recognise the increase in traffic that will be generated just because the road exists. A new road encourages people to make journeys that they would never have made before. The CPRE report highlights this and shows that the extra traffic (over and above the regional growth) was as much as 7% greater in the short term and 48% in the long term.  

The negative impact of a new road isn’t just increasing traffic. A number of knock-on effects – such as more carbon emissions and poorer air quality – would clearly be an issue for our area. Roads have a permanent and detrimental impact on the landscape, nature, biodiversity, and heritage sites.

So what about the perceived advantages of a new junction? First let’s look at reduced congestion and shorter journey times on the ring road and in the surrounding area. Yes, there would likely be a honeymoon period where people see traffic flowing smoothly on the new road. But remember when the ring road was first opened? How empty and free-flowing it was! Within three to five years, it was jammed at peak times, no matter how many times they redesigned the junctions. That’s what happens everywhere.  It’s what the CPRE report warns will happen in almost every new road scheme. Why does anyone still believe more roads will fix the traffic problem?

Then there is the argument that a new junction will generate economic growth for Emerson’s Green and South Glos. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what is the evidence that this works? Well, to put it bluntly, there isn’t any.  Here I’ll quote from the CPRE report:

Of 25 road schemes justified on the basis that they would benefit the local economy, only five had any evidence of any economic effects. Even for these five, the economic effects may have arisen from changes incidental to the road scheme, or involved development in an inappropriate location, or involved changes that were as likely to suck money out of the local area as to bring it in.

For economic growth to benefit an area, it needs to do two things. First, it needs to employ people from that area. So how would an M4 junction and link road, that will clearly make it easier for people from Wales, Swindon and other locations on the M4 and M5 to get to Emerson's Green help our area? It won’t. It is likely to make it more difficult for local people to find employment here because the employment pool will be a lot larger. The second thing needed to support the area is for local businesses to locate there. Take a drive round the existing businesses already in the science park and commercial areas of Lyde Green and you’ll see most are big corporations whose profits are not being ploughed back into South Gloucestershire.

There is scant evidence that M4 junction 18a would meet the objectives set out by South Glos Council for reducing traffic and increasing the area’s economic success. Evidence from schemes already built elsewhere have shown otherwise.

I don’t think a new junction is needed, but if you do, be careful what you wish for. From the plans I have seen so far, I believe the western option at Lyde Green will cost significantly more and produce far greater disruption to the M4 than the eastern option near Pucklechurch. By giving your support for a new junction, you may be inadvertently backing a junction here. The estimated costs and benefits of the options should become clear once the consultation starts on the 21st August,  which will give us more information to work with.

If you would like to read the full report from CPRE visit http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/transport/roads/item/4543-the-end-of-the-road-challenging-the-road-building-consensus

Martin Smith

Martin has lived in Pucklechurch for over 20 years and served on the Parish council for 10 years. He is now retired but was a Chartered Civil Engineer who spent much of his early career designing and building highways and major interchanges.