Britain is a nation of motorists. Nearly 22 million of us get to work each day by car. For many people, a car is a necessity but a long-term failure to invest in the road network means millions are stuck in traffic every day. Even in a net-zero Britain where our railways are fully electrified and our cities all have fast reliable public transport systems, the majority of Brits will still drive to work – in electric cars.

It is hard to imagine the Germans tolerating that large stretches of a crucial road like the A1 connecting Newcastle and Edinburgh are single-carriageway or that a river crossing that serves some of the country’s busiest ports would be so congested. Britons should not tolerate it either.

Some argue that the need to cut emissions means that Britain should stop investing in the road network. Legal challenges on these grounds have held up a number of major road projects, while in Wales a plan to build a Third Menai Crossing has been held up due to the Welsh Government’s effective ban on new road building.

This approach will never make a serious dent in emissions. New roads will only ever be a small fraction of Britain's 247,800 mile long road network. To get emissions from driving down the focus must be on the 170 billion miles travelled each year on roads built already.

The way to get those emissions down isn’t by making driving more expensive, but by giving drivers a better alternative. In part, this means expanding public transport, but it also means accelerating the shift to electric cars.

Britain Remade analysis found that speeding up the electric car rollout by just one year would prevent twenty times more carbon from entering the atmosphere than came from all main road building between 2015 and 2020.

Electric vehicle prices are falling fast and many drivers want to make the shift, but are put off by fears around not being able to find somewhere to charge their car. The right approach is not to stop building roads, it is to invest in roads and build the infrastructure to get them ready for the switch to electric cars.

To get Britain moving again, we need to build new and better roads lined with fast reliable chargepoints for electric cars.


Making it easier to install public EV chargepoints

Motorists will only make the switch to zero-emission electric vehicles if they are confident they will be able to charge it. That’s why it’s essential to install as many public charging points on British streets as possible alongside rapid-charge points in motorway service stations. Yet many councils, including over 100 who have declared a climate emergency, lack a plan for the EV rollout.

To speed up deployment, the next government should implement the proposal under consultation to allow chargepoint operators to carry out streetworks using a permit that can be obtained in days rather than a licence that can take months. A new permitted development right should be created to allow operators to install chargepoints in appropriate locations. Local distribution network operators should be required to publish up-to-date information about grid capacity to eliminate unnecessary delays.


Eliminating unnecessary planning bureaucracy

In an effort to win planning permission to build a new river crossing to relieve the extremely congested Dartford Crossing, National Highways spent almost £300m producing a 360,000 page planning application. To put that into context, Norway managed to build the world’s longest road tunnel for less than half that. Change is a necessity. That project is critically needed to relieve one of the most congested and most important parts of the road network, serving as a gateway from Europe. Refusing consent for that project would be another damning indictment of planning in the UK.

To cut bureaucracy and speed up delivery of essential road upgrades, the next government should update the national networks national policy statement to give critical national priority status to any road endorsed in the Road Investment Strategy. To enable cheaper and more flexible construction, all project amendments with positive environmental impacts should be automatically approved.


Unlocking investment with a new wave of public-private partnerships

Intense pressure on the public finances will force the next government to make tough choices on infrastructure funding. There is a major risk that relying on public investment alone will force many crucial road projects to be cancelled or delayed indefinitely. There’s a better approach available. In France, private companies have built more than 5,500 miles of motorways with concessions from the state to collect tolls from users if they build, operate, and maintain the motorway. At the end of the concession contract, the state gets to keep the high quality infrastructure. This enables France to invest significantly more into its road network while making more money available for investment in other priority areas such as public transport and active travel.

Britain should copy the French model and use private finance where possible to fund projects in the government’s next Road Investment Strategy.