Legal Bid Launched To Stop U.K. Government’s £27 Billion Road Building Plans

Cyclists ride bikes as the cross a bridge over empty carriageways of the M4 motorway below, near ... [+] Swindon, western England. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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The U.K. government's GBP28.8 billion plan to expand Britain's road network is set to be challenged by the same legal team which, in February, halted the Department for Transport's plan to expand Heathrow. The Court of Appeal ruled Heathrow expansion plans were illegal because the Department for Transport had ignored the Paris climate agreement. Lawyers acting for Transport Action Network (TAN) have asked the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England to scrap their five-year road building plan.

At its launch alongside the Budget in March, the Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) was described by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as England's "largest ever" roads programme.

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commitment to ramp up spending on mainly strategic roads was a key manifesto pledge in the Conservative party's general election campaign last year. RIS2 revealed that GBP25.3 billion would be spent on freeways and A-roads, and GBP3.5 billion for major local routes. TAN claims the plan breaches climate and air quality laws, and they have charged solicitors Leigh Day to act on their behalf.

The firm has retained the services of David Wolfe QC of Matrix chambers and Pete Lockley of 11 KBW, the same legal team that was victorious in the Heathrow case. TAN director Chris Todd said: "How can the DfT claim to take climate change seriously when it is set to burn billions on the 'largest ever roads programme' to make things worse?" The campaign group will be launching a GBP38,000 crowdfunder on April 21 to pay for the legal challenge.

Legal Bid Launched To Stop U.K. Government’s £27 Billion Road Building Plans

Part of the letter sent to U.K.

Government from the Transport Action Network's lawyers.


In March, the DfT released a new plan to "decarbonize" transport. In a foreword, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said that "public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities" and that "we will use our cars less."  This was hard to square with the road-building plans announced by the Chancellor earlier the same month.

Government ministers have also recently welcome the drop in motor traffic caused by the current lockdown. Shapps told Sky News on April 17 that the "level of car use is the equivalent to 1955 and I must be the first transport secretary in history who celebrates the idea that there are fewer cars on the road." A statement from TAN said: "We now need to go to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the decision to approve RIS2.

This will be the biggest ever legal challenge to roads policy in history and the Government will have top lawyers defending it." The statement added that the "same legal team that defeated the DfT over Heathrow has agreed to represent us at a discount." TAN wants the government to spend the money saved on road building plans to be "diverted into public transport, rail freight, cycling and walking."

Rowan Smith, environmental law solicitor at Leigh Day, said: "Our clients question the appropriateness of proceeding now with Road Investment Strategy 2, which would mean vast amounts of carbon and pollutants emitted into the atmosphere, with inevitably disastrous effects on the environment."

He added: "Our clients are therefore arguing that the government ought to have properly assessed the climate change and air pollution impact of these proposals before going ahead."

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