Extinction Rebellion Winchester lobbied Winchester city councillors on Wednesday 28th August as the council's cabinet met to discuss Highways England's plans to expand Junction 9 of the M3.
XR Winchester rebels staged a die in on the steps of the Guildhall, talked to members of the public and gave out information about why we are against the Highways England proposals.
Inside the meeting an XR Winchester spokesperson explained why continuing to build roads is incompatible with the council's declaration of a climate emergency.
Extinction Rebellion Winchester welcomes the opportunity to address the cabinet today. As a result of the Climate Emergency declaration, the cabinet report in front of you recommends seeking so-called positive environmental benefits from the M3 junction 9 scheme. The fact is that supporting road building is fundamentally incompatible with the declaration, it is literally throwing fuel on the fire.
For too long we have been told that building roads solves problems but the reality is it just creates them. There is a plethora of evidence that expanding road capacity creates Induced Demand, journeys are made that simply wouldn't have been made previously, even the Department of Transport acknowledges this. This means that within a few years additional capacity fills up and emissions increase proportionately.
For every pound we spend increasing road capacity and subsequently our carbon footprint, we could have invested it in sustainable transport such as bus and train networks that would actually reduce congestion and carbon emissions without the need to increase capacity. The M3 junction 9 scheme may cost up to £160m which could, for example, buy over 300 electric buses or build 100 miles of segregated cycleway. This would literally transform travel in Hampshire, reducing road congestion and most importantly reducing our carbon footprint, of which a staggering 60% (in Winchester) already comes from transport. Moreover, if money like this was diverted from road schemes up and down the country, we could fundamentally transform travel across the whole country, making a huge contribution towards reducing our carbon emissions.
The plans from Highways England comprehensively fail to address the urgency of improving our natural environment, instead, they will erode both Winnall Moors and the South Downs National Park. This will inevitably result in damage to wildlife and further increase pressure on our chalkland streams.
Rather than acknowledging the stark reality of this situation and the transformative change it demands, both the cabinet report and draft letter to Highways Agency focus on mitigating measures. I wonder if the cabinet appreciates the scale of what would be required to mitigate the junction expansion alongside the associated expansion of the M3? It would take 15sqm of forest, a forest the size of our city, to sequester the additional 8 kilotons of co2e. Trusting Highways England to deliver mitigating measures of this magnitude is ludicrous. They have consistently failed to even calculate the true impact of road schemes from a climate perspective let alone mitigate them.
In order to fully demonstrate your commitment to the climate emergency declaration which you as a council have already made, Extinction Rebellion Winchester urges you to significantly alter the tone of your letter to Highways England. As it stands there is a clear presumption that the scheme will go ahead. We believe your default position should be that this scheme must not proceed unless Highways England can provide evidence that their mitigating measures will result in carbon neutrality at the very least. Anything else is a betrayal of your declaration. You have an opportunity to set an extremely important precedent that could have nationwide implications, we urge you to do so.
Winchester City Council's Response
Following the meeting, a letter to Highways England from the council setting out their position was strengthened to further emphasise their concerns and to request a lot more information about the potential impact of the scheme.