Campaign For Better Transport)
Politicians promise that building roads and runways will boost the economy and create lots of jobs… but are their claims justified? Our new guest blog by Steve Melia from the Centre for Transport and Society (University of the West of England) suggests otherwise.
“In 1999, after an exhaustive review, SACTRA (the Standing Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) found a “strong theoretical expectation” that transport investment could boost economic growth but that direct evidence was “weak and contested”. By 2013, when George Osborne unveiled a radical change in spending priorities (Investing in Britain’s Future), all doubt had evaporated. Henceforth, roads, rail and airport expansion would help us build our way out of the worst recession in living memory.
If the transport world harboured any doubts, few were going to voice them; why question the goose that’s rolling golden eggs in your direction? In the rush to unlearn all the lessons of the 1990s (remember “we can’t build our way out of congestion”?) few have bothered to ask: has the evidence really changed since SACTRA came to those uncertain conclusions? The short answer is ‘no’. A longer answer can be found in a link to the journal article below. This is a summary of its main points.
Transport investment can trigger local increases in economic activity. Two common examples are greenfield development around a new road and the intensification of land-use around a new railway station. But do these, or any other examples, make any difference to national economic growth? The question is not as simple as it first seems. There are several ‘positive mechanisms’ that suggest they might. One of them is land-use change, which occurs in those two examples. Other positive mechanisms include: business time savings, labour market improvements and the ‘agglomeration effect’, where businesses and their suppliers form clusters connected by roads and/or public transport. Improvements to those networks can spread the benefits more widely – the M4 corridor is often cited as an example of this.