Lancaster City Councillors are voting tonight on whether to sign an agreement with Lancashire County Council to accept £140m from Homes England to build new roads to facilitae the building of 9185 new homes in South Lancaster. The meeting agenda is here.
I strongly oppose this scheme – not because of nimbyism or naivete, but because it makes a mockery of our promises to the people of our district, trashes our national reputation, and the cost is paid by the poor, the vulnerable and the generations that follow us who are all unequally impacted by climate change.
We have committed in our Corporate Priorities to “net zero carbon by 2030 while supporting other individuals, businesses and organisations across the district to reach the same goal”.
How does this proposal measure up against this and our other priorities?
Since our ‘Climate Emergency’ declaration in January 2019, passed unanimously, officers have worked very hard to establish a reputation for Lancaster as leaders in taking action. We have secured £6.8m in Government funding to decarbonise Salt Ayre Leisure Centre, published a draft climate emergency review of our local plan and taken other initiatives that have been praised by UK100 amongst others. We have also been commended in the Municipal Journal Awards 2021 for Leadership in responding to the Climate Emergency.
The Government’s advisors, the Climate Change Committee, have recently said that investment in roads should only be made if they do not lead to increases in overall emissions. All the evidence is that new roads create new journeys.
The Transport Action Network asked Highways England, a Government Agency, for the carbon impact of its 50 RIS2 schemes, including this one. Highways England, using data for 45 out of the 50 schemes, estimated the extra (induced) traffic will lead to almost 32 million tonnes of extra carbon emissions, whilst construction adds another 4 million tonnes.
Our road’s emissions were not calculated so I asked expert Prof. John Whitelegg to do so. He calculated the embodied construction emissions at 137,200 tonnes of CO2. Using Highways England formula that extra traffic leads to 8 x construction emissions, gives us a total of 1,23m tonnes (MtCO2) added to Lancaster District Carbon Emissions. So how big a dent does that put in our carbon budget.
The Tyndall Centre at Manchester University has developed a Carbon Budget Tool providing targets for UK local authority areas that are based on the commitments in the United Nations Paris Agreement. Our budget, of emissions we can responsibly emit by 2100, is 4.8 million tonnes (MtCO2). To achieve this Tyndall recommend that we reduce our emissions by 13.7% every year.
Just building the new road for Bailrigg Garden Community will use more than a quarter of our 90-year carbon budget.
And what about the 9,000 plus houses? According to the Architects Climate Action Network, Greenhouse gas emissions caused by the construction of new buildings and infrastructure, known as ‘embodied carbon emissions’, are a significant driver of climate change. The embodied emissions of an additional 9000 houses will further deplete this budget significantly.
We have also committed to “transitioning to an accessible and inclusive low-carbon and active transport system“ including plans for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, cycle superhighway, walking routes, greenspaces, park and ride . Will this help counterbalance the scheme’s emissions?
Highways England, in a statutory response to a Planning Application to build 750 homes off Bailrigg Lane, suggests not. They state that “there is no robust transport evidence to demonstrate that these forms of sustainable transport infrastructure and services will provide the necessary modal shift to achieve the sustainable movement of people and goods, particularly in relation to the level of proposed growth in South Lancaster.”.
This conclusion is reinforced by a recent Transport for New Homes report Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions & Reality. They examine whether the new ‘garden communities’, including ours, really offer a solution different from the usual car-based dormitory estates that we are so used to seeing. They conclude that “there is an enormous gap between the garden community visions presented by government, consultants and local councils, and the developments likely to be built in reality. The problem centres on building in the wrong location and around the wrong kind of transport. The two problems are of course, interrelated.”
Yes we need new homes, alongside cutting car miles. So we have to develop new communities responsibly, not based on new motorway connections, and also focus on what we do with our existing ones. Reducing the need to travel is key. We need 15 minute neighbourhoods “based upon four pillars, proximity, diversity, density and ubiquity, 15-minute policies transform urban spaces into connected and self-sufficient (or ‘complete’) neighbourhoods. We should prioritise developing these in Lancaster and Morecambe through the Canal Quarter, Frontierland and other projects.
On 13th August the BBC ran news stories all day reporting on how Council policies are inconsistent with their climate goals. Building and extending roads and airports were the examples they used.
If we agree to this funding we will be trashing our climate change reputation, trashing our Corporate priorities and helping to trash the planet.