The Big Lemon responds to the Transport for the South East’s draft Strategy

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The Big Lemon this week responded to Transport for the South East’s draft strategy for the next 30 years, welcoming its change of direction from past transport strategies, but urging it to go much further in how it tackles the climate emergency.

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The draft Transport Strategy advocates the evolution of transport policy away from one based on ‘planning for vehicles’ to one based on ‘planning for people’ and ‘planning for places’

The Big Lemon believes the move away from ‘predict & provide’ is long overdue and very welcome – indeed most of our current transport problems are a direct result of the ‘predict & provide’ strategy of the last five decades. However this strategy is not radical and urgent enough; the science says we need to reach net zero carbon before 2030 but we’re only aiming for a date twenty years later – that makes no sense at all. 

The Big Lemon would also question the rationale behind a ‘Sustainable Route to Growth’; this assumes that ‘growth’ is ‘good’.  This is not the case at all: some growth is good, some is not; some growth is healthy, some is not. It is clear that growth in traffic has not been good, for our health, for our countryside, or indeed for our economy as everything now takes longer to travel than it used to and time is money.  

What is important is people’s health, wellbeing, happiness and sense of fulfilment.  An improving economy certainly provides that in many respects, but ‘growth’ achieves nothing in itself, it is only good where it somehow furthers the things that are important to people and we should be much more specific about what we’re actually aiming for rather than using this very blunt, general and very abstract notion of ‘growth’.

Chapter 2 of the draft Transport Strategy summarises the characteristics, challenges and opportunities in the South East.

The characteristics are very well laid out and TFSE has, we feel, correctly identified the main challenges. However the conclusion (p21), that “the South East’s future Transport Strategy must seek to balance economic and social needs with the environmental constraints and challenges” is totally the wrong conclusion. Economic needs and social needs do not need to be ‘balanced’ with the environmental constraints and challenges; this is the thinking that got us into a climate emergency, and a biodiversity crisis, in the first place – because when we ‘balance’ one against the other the environment always loses.

The environment is the foundation for our economy, our society, and life itself; the strategy needs to identify a vision of a healthy environment as the foundation of a happy society and a thriving economy, and then look at how to deliver that. For example what level of traffic is environmentally sustainable and socially healthy, and how can we reduce traffic to those levels by enabling, incentivising, and putting the infrastructure in place for suitable alternatives such as walking, cycling, and public transport as well as measures to reduce the need to travel (eg superfast broadband).

TFSE’s vision is that: ‘By 2050, the South East of England will be a leading global region for net-zero carbon, sustainable economic growth where integrated transport, digital and energy networks have delivered a step-change in connectivity and environmental quality.

‘A high-quality, reliable, safe and accessible transport network will offer seamless door-to-door journeys enabling our businesses to compete and trade more effectively in the global marketplace and give our residents and visitors the highest quality of life.’

While The Big Lemon supports the direction of travel, it is nowhere near radical and urgent enough. The zero carbon goal should be actual zero carbon rather than ‘net’, as ‘net’ allows things like off-setting and outsourcing which do not solve the problem but instead provide excuses for inaction. 

The Big Lemon recognises that the proposed term of the strategy is 30 years – until 2050 – but the scientific reality is that the climate emergency requires faster action than can be delivered by a 30 year strategy. Therefore it requires a two-stage strategy, with an urgent front-loaded aspect which could be considered to be akin to ‘fixing the roof’ or ‘putting the fire out’, with a longer term vision of healthy and sustainable living

For example:

By 2030, the South East of England will be a leading global region with a zero carbon, sustainable economy where integrated transport, digital and energy networks have delivered a stepchange in connectivity and environmental quality; and by 2050, a high-quality, reliable, safe, accessible and truly sustainable transport network will offer seamless door-to-door journeys enabling our businesses to thrive and giving our residents and visitors the highest quality of life.

The Big Lemon believes the priorities have been well-covered; however the priorities need to be more specific:

(i) “Better connectivity between our major economic hubs, international gateways and their markets” – this is of course highly desirable, but only if it’s better connectivity by way of public transport or sustainable modes of transport – the last thing we need is more (or bigger) roads

(ii) Likewise, “more reliable journeys between the South East’s major economic hubs and international gateways” is also highly desirable, but not if it means more roads (which in any case won’t make those journeys more reliable as has been shown time and time again, as traffic simply grows to fill the space and in very little time the journey becomes just as unreliable as it was before the ‘improvement’.

(iii) Finally “a reduction in carbon emissions to net zero by 2050” is nowhere near soon enough – the science is very clear that it needs to be 2030 at the latest and we need to rise to the challenge.

The draft Transport Strategy identifies six key journey types and identifies the key challenges and opportunities for each, as well as the types of schemes and policy responses that will be needed to address these challenges.

Much of the analysis in this section outlines the challenges correctly but the solutions too often are ‘improvements’ to the road network.  

This is 20th Century thinking; we need to consider future transport solutions in terms of walking, cycling, e-scooters, buses and taxis for local journeys, and trains, trams, coaches and long-distance cycle tracks

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The Integrated Sustainability Appraisal is incredibly thorough, however we would question some of its assumptions and conclusions. For example, the economic benefits of road schemes are considered to be “++” whereas the economic benefits of bus improvements are only considered to be “+”. As has been highlighted previously, economic gains through road schemes are very temporary, as the extra supply induces extra demand until the system is even more clogged than it was before, and parts of the system that were previously workable become overly congested due to spillover from a new scheme.

The result is that the road network starts impacting negatively on the economy because (especially in urban areas) once the network reaches breaking point it simply jams up and economic activity grinds to a halt. Bus services on the other hand, have the potential to be a virtual circle where improvements create greater demand which in turn contributes to further improvements, and at each stage the impact on the road network is reduced as more motorists shift to buses, which in turn benefits all road users and those who live near them.

However, altogether the Integrated Sustainability Appraisal is highly revealing and clearly demonstrates that the negative social and environmental impacts of road-building vastly outweigh any perceived economic benefits. As previously highlighted, economic benefits are only useful in terms of how they benefit people, and if they have such high social costs – on people – it is a nonsense to pursue them. And in the context of the climate emergency and the crisis in biodiversity the negative impacts simply cannot be justified.


The TFSE Draft Strategy has much to be welcomed and already articulates a clear break from past strategies that have done so much damage to our natural environment and to our health and wellbeing. However there is still much to improve.

First and foremost, the 2050 net-zero goal is simply too little too late. It needs to be actually zero and by 2030 at the latest. This isn’t just our opinion, it is the internationally-recognised scientific consensus. The Big Lemon is aware that the 2050 target is consistent with established government strategy, but the fact that UK Government strategy is nowhere near ambitious enough does not mean that this strategy should not be either.

Secondly, there is much too much emphasis on roads as part of the solution. Headline solutions are too often “road and rail” where they should actually be “active travel” and “public transport”. Where roads are part of the solution, the emphasis should be on re-purposing existing roads into a network of active travel corridors.

Finally, while it is appropriate that benefits are considered in terms of their environmental, social or economic benefit; we should not forget that these ‘benefits’ are only beneficial in terms of how they impact on people. If people suffer from congestion, air and noise pollution and have lost their favourite dog-walking space to a new road scheme they are not going to be comforted by the knowledge that the South East’s economy grew by 1.3% last year. We need to move away from abstract goals and ‘growth for the sake of it’ to what actually improves people’s lives.

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