Supplementary written evidence for NNNPS Inquiry from
Transport Action Network (NPS0027)



  1. Transport Action Network (TAN) greatly appreciated the opportunity to appear before the Transport Committee, and the interest shown by the MPs present in its views on the draft National Networks National Policy Statement (dNNNPS). We are following up with matters we promised to put in writing and also about the impact of key reports published after we submitted our written evidence. 


  1. We welcome the insightful questions posed by members. Regarding congestion (Q129131), DfT must provide forecasts for the SRN for each of its NRTP scenarios for 2030 and 2050. The current congestion KPI referred to by the roads director simply relates to 2025 and has already hit the maximum limit, even with car usage still less than in 2019. Likewise regarding modal shift (Q139), the Committee should press DfT for how much modal shift it forecasts in each of its NRTP scenarios.

Recent matters

Climate Change Committee Progress Report 2023

  1. The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) Progress Report was published the same morning as TAN’s appearance, and welcomes the long overdue review of the NNNPS. It highlights new policy in the dNNNPS encouraging promoters to take “all reasonable steps” to reduce carbon (page 127). While that might initially sound positive, the word "reasonable" has to be interpreted in context, however. Here the context is the dNNNPS’s assertions that there will be traffic growth in all foreseeable circumstances and that residual emissions from road schemes should be ignored. In other words, without radical change, TAN does not expect this policy to be effective in securing the shift in travel and transport infrastructure urgently required to be on track for net zero. 


  1. TAN strongly welcomes the report’s recommendation R2023148 to “Conduct a systematic review of current and future road-building projects to assess their consistency with the Government's environmental goals” by the end of 2023. This should consider wider environmental targets such as particulates and species, plus Levelling Up missions at the same time. In this context, recommendation R2023149 on Local Transport Plan guidance[1] is important to consider too, so as to ensure that the NNNPS secures delivery of quantifiable carbon reductions for national networks, and is aligned with this ambition for local transport networks. The review should also be independent of Government, as was the case with the Welsh roads review[2]. If DfT conducts the review internally, it can be expected to produce the same business as usual fudge as the dNNNPS and the RIS3 initial report.


  1. Prof Goodwin’s answer to Q18 was that the Transport Committee needs to decide explicitly whether or not it accepts the recommendation and, if not, give clear reasons why. TAN fully supports this request. The only credible way forward now is for the NNNPS review to be paused pending an independent review of the roads programme, with paragraphs 2.111 (need for roads) and 5.1619 (carbon emissions) of the current NNNPS suspended in the interim, pursuant to section 11 of the Planning Act 2008. Failing to recognise the inevitable would mean a flood of new legal challenges and threaten public respect for the planning system, at a time when it needs to be increased if we are to deliver the infrastructure that is essential for net zero, which roads clearly are anything but.

Interaction of dNNNPS and RIS3

  1. With even the DfT not expecting the dNNNPS to be designated now until 2024, it would primarily apply during road period 3 (so RIS3). In May 2023, the DfT and National Highways commenced consultation on RIS3, publishing many documents including the SRN Initial Report and Connecting the Country, its roads vision for 2050. While the roads minister has alerted the Committee to this consultation[3], he has failed to highlight how this consultation introduces new major inconsistencies. These require resolution, if there is to be a coherent policy context for decision-taking.


  1. The RIS3 consultation, like the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, reads as if it was written by different people with radically divergent viewpoints. On the one hand there are promises to make road-building, particularly adding lanes between junctions, the last resort[4]. On the other, it commits to proceed with current schemes and in the longer-term to dual trunk roads that are single carriageway.


  1. Besides the internal contradictions, this creates fundamental differences with key policies in the dNNNPS, in particular around the statement of need, alternatives and carbon emissions. How can the dNNNPS credibly maintain that government policy is to widen roads, improve junctions and in some cases build new roads (3.463.47) and decision-makers should ignore carbon impacts of road schemes, while the consultation now acknowledges that "managing infrastructure carbon [means] starting from the premise of only building where there are no alternative approaches"? Or that alternatives should only be considered in “exceptional circumstances” (4.19) when the consultation says “before we construct new assets we will seek to find alternate and more sustainable solutions”. A particular issue is that all schemes now being pushed into RIS3 and RIS4 were subject to an options appraisal process from a different era.


  1. These inconsistencies will radically increase the likelihood of confusion in consultations and examinations, delays in decision-taking and challenges in the courts. It is as if the DfT has already made a compelling case for an independent roads review, even before the CCC had published its recommendation.


  1. Other witnesses suggested in their answers to Q47 that alternatives are already considered extensively, such as at the A66 examination and previous work before it. But the focus in that examination was on other route alignments rather than alternative approaches or even building less. Indeed the alternatives considered before the examination were far worse environmentally, rather than far better[5]. The roads director’s assertion that a wider range of options would “blight the whole of the north of England” (Q148) is hyperbole and misleading.


  1. There are other matters where the emerging plans for RIS3 necessitate further changes to the dNNNPS before it is designated. The welcome proposal for more active travel routes, in particular those requiring additional land take in order to avoid them being crammed in next to major highways, would require additional policy in the statement of need. As already raised in our earlier evidence, this would require changes to NSIP thresholds too.

Further information requested

Fuelling the future

  1. TAN warmly welcomes the recommendations of the Committee’s Fuelling the Future report regarding the need to pick winners, in terms of energy vectors and motive power, and supporting more equitable access to zero emission transport. According to Lifecycle analysis of UK road vehicles (DfT 2022), a research report produced by Ricardo (highlighted in our answer to Q24), electric cars offer about 75% lower emissions across their lifecycle than hydrogen, and would still be over a third better by 2050. In terms of cumulative energy demand, the differences are even greater then.


  1. While articulated lorries require a far larger battery, batteries offer close to twice the climate benefits over hydrogen now. In 2050, with lorries equipped with pantographs (as successfully trialled in Sweden and Germany) this would offer even greater cost savings and efficient logistics through dynamic charging. That is because lorries are used much more intensively than cars which are parked up on average for 96% of the time. The evidence is becoming ever clearer that hydrogen lorries will be as niche[6] as hydrogen domestic heating, where the CCC’s progress report recommends electrification as the default option (R2023190). For instance, in the Netherlands hauliers have shown zero interest in subsidies to buy hydrogen trucks[7], while the NIC has stated the need to close down options in order to deliver at pace[8]. Although the EU is requiring both hydrogen and recharging infrastructure for lorries along major routes by 2030[9], the UK can take a Brexit benefit in skipping hydrogen and focusing just on recharging, keeping hydrogen as a later option for remote areas.


  1. Synfuels are modelled to be even more expensive and energy inefficient[10], with the Ricardo report (at Figure 3.5) highlighting the net efficiency for battery electric is 74%, compared to 31% hydrogen and just 20% for synfuels. The demand from aviation for them and biofuels mean the price will become unattractive for ordinary drivers, especially compared to electricity. Their use will at most be niche, such as for classic cars. Regarding the suggestion in Q27 that synthetic fuels follow the natural carbon cycle, the capital intensity of the process creates a commercial imperative for producers to sell such fuels as quickly as possible after capturing carbon, undermining that claim. By contrast, in the natural world, trees, other plants and rocks can take carbon out of the atmosphere for a longer part of the carbon cycle.


  1. So regarding Q21 about whether transport models are reflective of the possibilities of alternative fuels, because they are expected at most to be very niche, they are not expected to have any significance. The bigger issue for transport models remains how fuel duty will be replaced, as the assumption across seven out of eight of the National Road Traffic Projections scenarios is that it won’t be, making driving 30% cheaper. This will create congestion as well as a fiscal black hole.


  1. TAN agrees with Committee members about the importance of looking across the whole lifecycle, not simply the tailpipe. The clear implication of this is the need to downsize cars, whether conventional or electric, and make more efficient use of them, such as by car and lift sharing, rather than leaving them unused 96% of the time. Regarding the suggestion in Q22 that this requires a fundamental change in human behaviour, there already is evidence that people are changing[11]. With a shift in funding and policy support to sustainable travel to increase choice, compared to the recent cuts that are reducing people’s choices, this positive trend would accelerate.


  1. TAN strongly supports rail electrification, which is clearly the best solution on mainline railways, not least East West Rail. We request the Committee calls on the DfT to commission a rail supplement to the Ricardo lifecycle analysis to compare the carbon and energy efficiency for different forms of rail motive power. This we believe will create a strong evidence base for electrification, and enable the NNNPS to focus policy support on the best energy vectors for each mode.


  1. In terms of what Fuelling the Future should mean regarding recommendations for the dNNNPS, there should be
    1. A policy presumption in favour of electrification for all new transport schemes and retrofitting existing major routes (whether static charging sites or dynamic (overhead) electrification), supported by extending the existing evidence base for lifecycle emissions from road to rail;
    2. A review of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project thresholds to potentially include user facilities, such as charging and interchange hubs, for lorries, coaches, car and lift sharing, as well as strategic cycle routes.
    3. An amended statement of need, highlighting the critical national imperative of these facilities providing coverage of the SRN by 2030.

Public views on road-building

  1. We mentioned DfT research on public views. Future roads: public dialogue (DfT 2018) states at page 46 that:

“Despite widespread concerns about congestion, the idea of building more or even widening roads was generally not seen as the answer, with responses driven by a mixture of concerns about feasibility and cynicism about the impact. For some, the idea was just not realistic, given the lack of space in areas where congestion was at its worst. The idea was also understood to carry a high cost and there were questions about affordability. Perhaps most importantly, people’s responses were shaped by their experience of road works at present. There was little desire to face the short to medium-term disruption caused by work to widen roads and a sense that improvements would have little lasting impact on congestion anyway.”


  1. The Lincoln Eastern Bypass, which opened fully in December 2020, is likely to be in a honeymoon period before additional traffic is induced, which may be slightly longer than usual due to the effects of the pandemic. Evidence from similar road schemes in the region shows that benefits are soon eroded:

“Traffic growth on the A46 Newark – Lincoln dual carriageway and bypass has been much greater than predicted. Traffic has grown by 71% on the northern section of the road and by 33% over a wider screenline compared to growth of 12% for the county and 9% for the region over the period 20022015. There is congestion, with roundabouts at either end currently operating above capacity”[12]


  1. The written evidence of Professor Goodwin and Lisa Hopkinson provides further, more recent data on induced traffic on surrounding roads. Finally the minister (Q138) said “I am not going to make life impossible for motorists” yet his policies and spending priorities are set to make life harder with congestion set to increase and alternatives decline.

Wider environmental targets

  1. Climate is far from the only environmental issue, or indeed the only one where the UK is set to miss legal targets. The other witnesses ignored how recent changes to environmental law and policy pose risks of legal challenge to the roads programme even greater than the now elevated risk of climate change. It is as if they prefer to look in their mirrors rather than through the windscreen to avoid seeing what is ahead. These are not abstract issues that we can ignore: the World Economic Forum ranks ecosystem collapse and natural resources crises as two of the top global risks[13].


  1. The minister claimed the dNNNPS “reflect[s] all of that environmental legislation that has been brought forward to help make those decisions in the correct way” (Q139). This is fundamentally incorrect. The draft simply states at 5.5 that the Environmental Act requires targets to be set, as if the text was drafted last year and then sat on ministers’ desks. Not only were those targets set in January, the draft says nothing about how those targets should affect decision-making.


  1. The trouble is Defra not only has failed to work out how to apply these 2023 targets, it does not even have adequate governance to address the previous 2018 targets. In Regulating to achieve environmental outcomes (2023), the report flagged in Q38, the NAO found that “according to its own data, Defra is not on course to achieve its 2018 environmental goals. It is too soon to judge performance against the targets it has just announced” and that there were “serious weaknesses” in Defra’s governance, evidence base and strategy. When DfT seeks to assuage concerns about the environmental content of the dNNNPS, by saying it is in regular contact with Defra, these robust findings about Defra’s failings should be front of mind.


  1. There are at least two other major reasons why the risk of legal challenges has increased. The new environmental principles policy statement, replacing EU law, comes into effect this November[14]. Despite explicitly applying to NPSs, it is ignored by the dNNNPS.


  1. In addition, the new system of Environmental Outcome Reports (EORs) is set to come into force not long after the dNNNPS is likely to be designated. By diverging from the long-established international norm of SEA and EIA, lawyers expect the reform to create a legal minefield. The DfT asserted it had been “particularly” far sighted here (Q106) but again this claim collapses under scrutiny. All the dNNNPS does is note that EORs are coming, rather than what the key outcomes relevant to transport NSIPs are expected to be, hence schemes could start to address.


  1. It really is not rocket science to work out what these are. Regarding Q144, Defra’s research found that the particulates Population Exposure Reduction Target, which would help our NHS by cutting hundreds of thousands of strokes, asthma and cardiovascular cases, requires radical action:

further improvements ultimately depend on reducing kilometres driven especially in London and densely populated areas. This is dependent on behavioural change rather than technical measures, with associated uncertainties in the extent of implementation influenced by national measures like road charging”[15].


  1. The other key challenge is for transport schemes is the goal of restoring nature. The dNNNPS puts all its nature recovery eggs in the BNG basket, ignoring the new species recovery 2030 target. A new House of Lords report found that “BNG could play a small role for nature recovery if well regulated, managed and evidenced [and includes] specific nature conservation objectives”[16]. The BNG policy in the dNNNPS falls far short of this. Natural England’s consultation response criticised it, noting its brevity compared to the BNG policy in the water resources and energy NPSs, as well as not referring correctly to the mitigation hierarchy.


  1. To create coherent habitats and ecological corridors, Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) will be agreed. The Lords report (paragraphs 128 and 129) recommends a strong link between their policies and proposals and planning decisions. But all the draft says, at paragraph 5.52, is that “[i]n taking decisions, the Secretary of State should ensure that appropriate weight is attached to” a list of designations that includes LNRSs. Paragraph 5.60 provides more detail, stating that the “Secretary of State should give due consideration to any such harm to the detriment of biodiversity features of regional or local importance which it considers may result from a proposed development”. By focusing on existing habitats, this ignores any impact on proposed habitats or connectivity. A scheme may make a proposed new nature corridor inviable, preventing existing species adapting to climate change or other species being reintroduced. There is no guidance assessing whether such aspirations might be of local, national, regional or international importance, precluding judgements about what weight might be appropriate.


  1. While DfT makes excuses about catching up, we have all known what these new targets would cover since well before the Environment Act achieved Royal Assent in 2021, when the NNNPS review started. Unless the dNNNPS is withdrawn and redrafted, it will be years out of date when designated. And if it is redrafted, it will be essential for officials to look ahead to anticipate issues, rather than rely on the past. A more spatial approach to policy, prioritising traffic reduction around urban areas, and undoing (rather than increasing) harm to ecological connectivity, particularly in rural areas with the greatest potential, needs to be included explicitly.

Other matters arising during oral evidence

Court cases

  1. Some other witnesses suggested that the current approach of ignoring operational carbon emissions has effectively been approved by the courts, so should continue or that the wording in paragraph 5.37 be made even more bullish. The DfT also relied on a recent ruling regarding the A47 to say it found “an approach to carbon that we believe is robust and stable” with “great confidence going forward” (Q105),


  1. This fundamentally misunderstands the role of courts in judicial review, which is to assess the legality of a decision based on the facts available at the time. Where a public body has not disclosed key information, justice may effectively be blindfolded.  Because TAN was unable to secure publication of data underpinning the Transport Decarbonisation Plan via judicial reviews, it helped an academic appeal successfully to the Information Commissioners’ Office[17]. The CCC has said that “the High Court said the Government needed to put some numbers around their plan, and it looks like they have been very reluctant to do so. …there is less ambition on transport more generally. We think that is mainly because of the lack of willingness from the Department to put some numbers around what it is doing on the demand side.”[18]


  1. The DfT has now been triangulated by the publication of the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, underlying transport data and the CCC’s 2023 progress report. These quantify the shortfalls in policies, let alone their delivery, to meet climate targets, closing the net on the DfT and putting it in a perilous position. An independent academic review of these figures, Reverse gear: The reality and implications of national transport emission reduction policies, shows why[19]. Even without the benefit of having sight of data that DfT should have disclosed pursuant to its duty of candour, the judge in TAN’s challenge to the current NNNPS stated that ‘it was possible (and even probable) that the "statement of need" would be subject to change following the review’ and likewise the policy on carbon[20]. Since then, the case for radical change in policy has become undeniable.

Restructuring transport NPSs and local priorities

  1. One area where all the witnesses appeared to agree was the need to modularise the NPSs, though two concerns were posed. First, that this may hinder integration of road and rail schemes. Second, there were concerns about how the NNNPS or NPSs replacing it might align with local aspirations or reduce certainty.


  1. Currently the dNNNPS simply namechecks the policy for a National Freight Network, rather than actually saying what it should mean in terms of the statement of need, nor what it should mean for decision-makers. If instead, NPSs were drafted with a modular mindset there could be far better integration. This would require individual NPSs to explicitly consider and clarify how they fit in with other NPSs, such as how to manage dependencies and conflicts. In particular it requires thinking both horizontally with other forms of infrastructure and vertically with international and local needs.


  1. Regarding local interests, road and rail schemes really need to integrate locally and regionally if they are to deliver benefits. This is unlike schemes for underground gas storage or overhead lines, that are not used directly by the public on a daily basis and do not change development patterns over significant areas. The two witnesses who are solicitors suggested in response to Q54 that if the dNNNPS did not come first, certainty would be reduced and that in any event there is already statutory engagement and local impact reports. However, the dNNNPS only mentions local impact reports at paragraph 5.182 in the context of impacts on land use and local plans, while TAN’s evidence has already criticised the policy on local transport networks at the end of chapter 5. As witnesses from Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs) in the Strategic Roads Inquiry highlighted, they are often presented with schemes as a fait accompli. So these assertions do not stand up to scrutiny.


  1. A sensible way to bridge any gap between local and national objectives is through thorough consideration of the full range of alternatives. Local and regional bodies should be given explicit roles in option generation and scheme development, such as co-creating objectives. This would complement the Committee’s welcome recommendations in its Strategic roads investment report to give STBs a greater role.

When is a policy question not a policy question?

  1. Many of the answers by the minister and his officials sought to avoid scrutiny by saying that they were “policy questions” outside the scope of the NNNPS. In response to Q103, the roads minister said that the NNNPS “is intended to provide a more robust and up-to-date and stable policy framework”, then at Q111 said that “the Government’s policy statement on roads” had in fact been published in May, possibly referring to a written ministerial statement on funding from March. By Q114, he had fully changed his mind, saying that the NNNPS was not “the policy framework”. Responding to Q121 the DfT’s roads director acknowledged he too was “struggling”.


  1. There was a similar degree of confusion about the scope of what the NNNPS should or could influence. At Q110 the roads director described it as ‘a “to do” guide’ for developers while at Q114 the minister said it was simply about his “quasi-judicial role”. Later, at Q122, he said the NNNNPS would “hopefully help” with local transport plans too, despite the roads director at Q109 asserting that public transport was “not caught by the NSIP regime”.


  1. TAN found these exchanges somewhat bizarre. As its title suggests, an NPS is a policy statement. Moreover, the core justification of the statutory scheme is the requirement that, once designated, the merits of policy in an NPS are not to be questioned[21]. The current NNNPS even has a section entitled “Government's policy for addressing need” at paragraphs 2.21 to 2.27, which includes Table 1 entitled “Options for addressing need”. As TAN mentioned in Q1, this table no longer appears in the dNNNPS, seemingly because it can no longer be acknowledged that other policy options exist.


  1. Likewise, the NNNPS affects far more than just DCOs. By setting out need and then policy on what is and is not acceptable, the NNNPS will influence option generation, scheme scope and alignment years before a DCO is drafted. Similarly, it is incorrect to say that public transport is outside the NNNPS’s scope. Schemes like Bristol’s MetroWest project were consented as NSIPs while even those proceeding via Transport & Works Act Orders rely on the NNNPS given the lack of other relevant national policy.


  1. The attempts (Q121 and 140) to say that policy is instead set by the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) or RIS3 do not stand up to scrutiny either. While the first strategic priority of the TDP is to accelerate modal shift to sustainable travel meaning reducing car use, DfT has denied this applies to the SRN, while NH confirmed that it had no input into the TDP and failed to include incorporate the TDP’s modal shift policy in its Net Zero Highways plan. The CCC has recently expressed concern about the lack of detail in the CBDP about road traffic demand management[22]. Finally the suggestion that RIS3 “will very clearly set what we are expecting” (Q121) flies in the face of its contradictions between continuing with current schemes and a “build last” approach.

Future NPS inquiries

  1. The system created by the Planning Act 2008 sought to front load decision-making through the creation of NPSs, reducing the time required to consider individual schemes. There was widespread agreement in oral and written evidence about the benefits of far more front-loading of policy and scrutiny.


  1. There remains, however, a major discrepancy between the scope and length of Parliamentary inquiries into NPSs with that for NSIPs. While we very much appreciate the time and interest given by the Committee, if we are serious about front-loading, surely there needs to be far greater engagement and scrutiny of the NPSs, including alternative policies and proposals? A single transport NSIP might have many hearings at an Examination, by contrast the NNNPS has only had four, one hour, hearings, with insufficient time to cover the many complex issues. This will be even more important if, as TAN hopes, this NPS becomes more spatial.


  1. One option could be an initial examination by the Planning Inspectorate of a draft NPS, producing a report highlighting key issues that can then inform hearings by a parliamentary committee. An alternative is the French model of a National Public Debate Commission, involving a mix of experts, lawyers, environmentalists and regional representatives, has been used both for projects and broader questions[23]. Decisions on the most appropriate approach will be influenced too by how future transport NPSs and their updates are managed.


August 2023




[1] The guidance appears to be delayed now even beyond recess:

[2] See for instance, Professors’ panel poses key questions about future roads spending (Transport Xtra 2023)

[3] As set out in this letter from the roads minster:

[4] See pages 11, 32 and 132 in Strategic Road Network Initial Report (National Highways 2023)

[5] “Typically, these were options which would have presented such serious environmental impacts that they would have been unacceptable”, see: Alternatives | A66 Northern Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade

[6] While there are already battery electric cement mixers on the market, viable uses for hydrogen could include logging trucks or those with machinery such as cranes.

[7] Nobody wanted a hydrogen vehicle | All 1,600 requests for Dutch zero-emission truck subsidies were for battery-electric models (Hydrogen Insight, 14 April 2023)

[8] James Heath: "pace, not perfection" key to reducing infrastructure emissions (NIC, 2023)

[9] European Green Deal: ambitious new law agreed to deploy sufficient alternative fuels infrastructure (EU Commission 2023)

[10] Over €200 to fill up a car – the cost of Germany's bid to keep combustion engines (Transport & Environment 2023)

[11] Car ownership rates set to plummet with millions of drivers not using vehicles (Express, 23 June 2023)

[12] Paragraph 9.2 in The Impact of Road Projects in England (TfQL 2017)

[13] Global Risks Report 2023 (World Economic Forum)

[14] Environmental principles policy statement (Defra 2023)

[15] Analysis of abatement options to reduce PM2.5 concentrations (Imperial 2022)

[16] Paragraph 120 in Environment and Climate Change Committee An extraordinary challenge: Restoring 30 per cent of our land and sea by 2030 (2023)

[17] UK government blocks release of CO2 figures behind transport plan (The Guardian 2022)

[18] Q403 in Environmental Audit Committee - Oral evidence: Mapping the path to net zero, HC 104


[20] Paragraphs 49 and 51 in R (On the Application Of Transport Action Network Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport [2022] EWHC 503

[21] Section 106(1)(a) of the Planning Act 2008

[22] Q403 in Environmental Audit Committee - Oral evidence: Mapping the path to net zero, HC 104

[23] National Public Debate Commission