Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review was accused of undermining Boris Johnson’s vision for a green economy by focusing its budget on improving roads.
Sunak announced that he was pushing ahead with a £27 billion roads programme but did not offer an increase on the £12 billion that was mobilised to tackle climate change.
While the UK chancellor said he was “pursuing the nation’s priorities” with his road-building plans to ease traffic congestion and improve commute times, some environmentalists fear it will attract more traffic and increase emissions.
Marcin Branowski, 21, president of pro-market environmentalism not-for-profit, British Conservation Alliance (BCA) told Westminster World he believed the level of spending allocated to roadworks cannot be justified. He said: “Roads? Where are we going? We don’t need roads!”
Branowski added: “The pandemic did disincentive the use of public transport, however, it also discouraged commuting in general, with more people working from home, which will hopefully be more widely accepted and encouraged by the government going forward.
“Of course, in some areas, it will continue to be necessary to use a car daily and there are roads where such works are long overdue, but with the government being heavily on the deficit, if it wishes to spend the funds it does not have, the least it can do is focus its budget where it will contribute to a long-term positive effect, rather than spending money for the sake of it.”
Dave Olsen, 18, student activist and writer was more understanding of both sides of the argument. He believed that while the government should have focused on public transport rather roads, some of the demands from environmentalists were unreasonable.
He said: “I believe the money would be much better used to invest in public transport which arguably has a greater economic benefit and clear environmental benefits. The roads investment would be understandable and more palatable if there was more significant climate action elsewhere, especially long-term solutions to carbon/methane price.
“But it’s also easy to see why an additional tax wouldn’t be ideal in the current economic situation, where economic stimulus and making sure people have disposable income are especially important.”
Anastasia Kourtis, 24, BCA contributor, said that though Sunak’s plans undermine the PM’s promise for more investment in green energy production, the creation of better roads is also necessary.
She said: “I think there need to be some spending on roadworks for transportation of goods across the country. But the development of better roads can coincide with more funding for railways and other forms of public transport as well as spending on the environment.
“I am hopeful that sooner or later – after the pandemic is over and the deals are signed with the EU – there will be more of a focus regarding the environment.”
While the focus on road infrastructure, instead of the promised green-recovery has been a topic of intense debate many environmentalists praised the chancellor for setting up an infrastructure bank to fund new projects such as offshore wind farms.