The new watchdog Transport Focus will represent the voice of motorists
The Campaign to Protect Rural England is angry that the new watchdog will only reflect the concerns of road ‘users’
Countryside campaigners have reacted with fury to the creation of a new official roads watchdog, which they say will deny rural dwellers a voice on the impact of highways slicing through their areas. The row follows the Government’s announcement yesterday of a new watchdog Transport Focus to represent the voice of motorists and other road-users when it comes to the building and state of motorways and highways. But the Campaign to Protect Rural England is angry that the new watchdog will only reflect the concerns of road ‘users’ – not of those most likely to be affected by new roads – such as rural householders and those concerned that areas of great beauty in the countryside could be blighted by tarmac.
Protect Rural England: Campaigners are angry that the watchdog will only reflect the concerns of road ‘users’
Ralph Smyth, transport campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: ‘Government claims of a long-term vision for roads simply don’t add up.
‘Its new roads watchdog, Transport Focus, would be so short-sighted that it could only consider the environment in terms of ‘the view out of the car window’.
‘Anything beyond that, such as the air or noise pollution faced by communities living alongside roads would be out of its focus.’
The new road-users’ watchdog organisation Transport Focus is a restructured and renamed Passenger Focus, whose main work until now has been championing rail customers.
Changes: Minister of Transport John Hayes
The new body will get the views of those using England’s motorways and major A-roads, with these views being used to shape roads policy.
These roads are currently run by the Highways Agency, which ministers have already announced is to be transformed into a government-owned company.
Some observers believe this is the first step towards the ‘privatisation’ of the roads network – a charge which ministers deny though they do accept it will pave the way for more private sector investment, including tolls on newly built or majorly improved roads.
This new Strategic Highways Company will be monitored by a new part of the Office of Rail Regulation, which will be called the Strategic Road Network Monitor.
The monitor will analyse the performance and efficiency of the new roads body checking to see that it is complying with the terms of its licence and delivering what is required under the road investment strategy.
The reform of the Highways Agency and introduction of the Government’s long-term vision for the road network all form part of the Infrastructure Bill, which was introduced in Parliament earlier this year.
Road Minister John Hayes said: ‘These changes, along with the introduction of a new road monitor and watchdog, will make sure road users’ voices are heard and that decisions made are accountable to taxpayers.’
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister welcomed the moves to give ‘all road users an official voice’.
He said: ‘The challenge for Transport Focus will be to adequately resource their operation to make sure they register the concerns of tens of millions of road travellers and then get those concerns heard at the top of government.’
AA road policy head Paul Watters said it marked ‘a huge change in the way strategic roads are looked after and it is essential the road user customer’s concerns are understood and acted upon.’
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: ‘We are concerned that without proper links to communities, the Highways Agency risks forcing traffic off its major roads on to local roads.