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UK Transportation Developments: What Do We Know?
By Connor Bowman - Junior GIS Analyst at Future Climate Info

Transportation… It’s key for a thriving country and enabling economic growth.

With the recent general election passing, it is interesting to see what developments have been supported by what parties and what impact these developments will have. According to the World Economic Forum, the UK is ranked 11th in Ground and Port infrastructure and 8th in Air Transport infrastructure, behind Hong Kong and Singapore, showing there is room for improvement and the importance of keeping infrastructure up to date.

The UK’s transportation industry does need development due to population growth which leads to overcrowding and a high demand for services but where should money be spent? Rail networks are outdated compared to China where they operate the largest high-speed rail network (HSR) in the world. Main airports like Heathrow are working at 98% capacity and the current road networks are not accommodated for traffic along main commuter networks like the Dartford Crossing.

Upgrades and newbuilds for some of the largest transport developments in the UK will need massive investments so the cost effectiveness must be considered. Heathrow, for example, if the expansion plans go ahead it is predicted to produce a £211 billion economic benefit by 2050. With the HS2 development also estimated to return £15 billion worth of income every year. These are 2 of the biggest developments planned to bring the UK infrastructure up to date and ensure continued growth.

However, what must be remembered with these figures are that they are only predictions. The HS2 budget, for example, has been continually increasing since its announcement in 2012. The price started off at £33 billion and has increased to £55 billion in estimated cost. With, large scale developments such as this, there can be uncertainties as unforeseen circumstances may arise. There is a view that if any sort of infrastructure development occurs people are guaranteed to flock to it because of the benefits, but this is never guaranteed.

Environmental aspects always have a significant role in any development and can be key to whether a development goes ahead or if the location is correct. Keeping green space and ensuring the expansion of a town or city is controlled is incredibly difficult especially when there is a high demand for smooth/fast transportation for the commuting country.

Large developments are always criticised for their placement due to affecting the environment, the Heathrow expansion is causing a lot of concern for air pollution in the area. A lot of areas around London already exceed their annual air pollution limits so it is unsurprising there is concern an airport development will only exacerbate things. Air travel is incredibly polluting and an increase will guarantee pollution increases unless harsh steps are taken to mitigate the risk of pollution.

Both the HS2 and the Thames Estuary Crossing are being considered where there are environmentally sensitive areas. The placement of these developments maybe the quickest and most feasible routes but the environment must be considered and the risk always mitigated. For example, the Thames Estuary Crossing could potentially have effects on the Marshes Ramsar site and the Thames Estuary which are both protected by law and designated internationally.

Large developments have a serious effect on the people who are directly involved, whether their houses are having to be bought and demolished to make room for the development or the substantial changes to towns and villages are simply unwanted by residents. Both the HS2 and the Heathrow development will have to buy a substantial number of houses and in Heathrow’s case a whole village will be demolished to make room. The government has offered the houses 120 metres from the HS2 line, to be bought at market price plus 10% of their worth. And houses 120 to 300 metres from the route can gain £22,500 for support.

All these developments should be considered by the UK government and with the general election results opting for a Conservative leadership these large developments will be built and supported according to the Conservative Manifesto. Also mentioned in their manifesto, is support for the HS2, the Heathrow Expansion and there is specific mention of fixing pinch points on the roads. As a comparison, the Labour party supports the HS2 and Heathrow developments and the Liberal Democrats support the need for High Speed rail across the UK, but have opted not to support the Heathrow expansion and instead there should be more focus on regional airports. UKIP and The Green Party have opted in their manifestos to not support and instead find other areas to invest in infrastructure.

UKIP targeted both the HS2 and the Heathrow expansion and instead suggested that the funding for these developments be targeted towards more improvements to the already existing rail routes, for example upgrading the rail networks to electric trains and increase the capacity of said trains and stations. Furthermore, instead of expanding an already large airport, there has been suggestions to expand smaller airports further away from the city as this will reduce travel around the country to access the larger airports.

The Green party has the same ideas for improving the rail network by scraping the HS2 and targeting rail networks in the South West and North for development. For air travel, their manifesto suggested scraping all expansion plans for airports. This is an interesting route to go down considering there is a demand for an increased capacity at airports.

In due time, the UK will be in desperate need of large improvements to travel whether it is rail, road or air travel. Unfortunately, challenging decisions need to be made to make room for these improvements and mitigation of all problems need to be addressed appropriately. This could be, for example, creating a bored tunnel for the New Lower Thames Crossing so that interference with the surrounding environment can be controlled. The HS2 can be controlled by giving better access to the local people who will be directly affected by the rail. For example, create an HS2 bus services to the nearest station, if this is provided then the local people may be able to see more of the benefit of the amount of funding this development needs.

The most difficult development to control is the Heathrow Expansion and there are plenty of reasons to oppose the expansion with the demolishment of houses and the potential for a further reduction of air quality in the area. There will always need to be a continuation in development or air travel and if this plan does not go ahead then other large similar developments soon will do if the country wants a continuing growth in the economy.

The UK will continue to develop and its infrastructure will continue to improve, as we’ve seen the topic of what and how infrastructure should be improved is highly debated. A lot of negatives can come from a development but what needs to be remembered is the benefits it will bring to a country in the longer term. Economic growth, availability of jobs, and increase in jobs areas with improved infrastructure and the creation of advanced technology are just a few of the positive outcomes of a development.

Connor Bowman
By Connor Bowman
- Junior GIS Analyst at Future Climate Info

References

World Economic Forum (2017), ‘The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017’ Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_TTCR_2017_web_0401.pdf [Accessed July 2017]
Heathrow (2017) ‘Airports Commission’ Available at: http://www.heathrow.com/company/company-news-and-information/airports-commission [Accessed July 2017]
BBC (11 Sept 2013) ‘HS2 to boost UK economy ‘by £15bn a year’ says report. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24040674 [Accessed July 2017]
Highways England (2016) ‘Lower Thames Crossing Fact Sheet’ Available at: https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/cip/lower-thames-crossing-consultation/user_uploads/lower-thames-crossing-consultation-factsheet---biodiversity--cultural-heritage-and-landscape.pdf [Accessed July 2017]
BBC (Jan 2015) ‘HS2: More cash for homeowners living near rail line’ Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30849808 [Accessed July 2017]
Conservative Party (2017) ‘Forward Together, Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future’ Available at: https://issuu.com/conservativeparty/docs/ge2017_manifesto_a5_digital/1?ff=true&e=16696947/48955343 [Accessed July 2017]
Labour Party (2017) ‘For The Many Not The Few’ Available at: http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/Images/manifesto-2017/labour-manifesto-2017.pdf [Accessed July 2017]
UKIP Party (June 2017) ‘ Britain Together’ Available at: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ukipdev/pages/3944/attachments/original/1495695469/UKIP_Manifesto_June2017opt.pdf?1495695469 [Accessed July 2017]
Liberal Democrat (2017) ‘Change Britain’s Future’ Available at: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/themes/5909d4366ad575794c000000/attachments/original/1495020157/Manifesto-Final.pdf?1495020157 [Accessed July 2017]
Green Party (2017) ‘Confident And Caring Britain’ Available at: https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/gp2017/greenguaranteepdf.pdf [Accessed July 2017]
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