6 Jan 2015.
For immediate release.

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Press Release

ABD Calls on MPs to Stop Highway Robbery Proposals
From 6th January, a committee of MPs will be reviewing the Infrastructure Bill.
This controversial but under-publicised Bill sets out to change the Highways Agency (HA) into a company called 'Highways England', at first state-owned.

This paves the way for privatisation and tolling of England's Strategic Roads Network (SRN) — major routes such as the A1, M5 and M25.

ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries commented:
“Just after the general election, the government could either completely privatise the SRN or keep it nominally in public hands, but lease off large bundles of roads to asset-sweaters who will then toll them to make money. If there is absolutely no intention to toll existing roads, then why are the powers being provided? And why have two HA board members recently been appointed — one from the loss-making M6T toll road company, and another with expertise in privatisation?

The proposals will hit drivers in other ways. Some years ago the Transport Select Committee observed that tolling would force traffic off major highways like motorways — statistically our safest roads — and onto lesser roads. As these are less likely to be lit, maintained or gritted, this cannot be good for road safety. It will also increase local congestion.

An independent opinion poll indicates that of drivers expressing an opinion, five out of six say that tolling would affect their standard of living. Three out of four would detour onto less suitable roads to avoid being charged.”
ABD Chairman Brian Gregory added:
“The government assures us that a rail watchdog body, Passenger Focus, will safeguard the interest of drivers. However, it is not reassuring that this body has no experience in this area, and is currently consulting anti-roads groups, road pricing lobbyists and commercial interests that make money out of drivers.

The wider public – including non-drivers — would lose out as tolls would also increase delivery costs and the price of goods in shops. Inflation and public transport fares would also increase. The changes are not needed for investment — the £15 billion that the government plans to spend over several years is nothing compared with the tax taken from drivers in just one year — over £50 billion. Apart from being 'Highway Robbery', the tolling proposals would also break a Coalition Agreement promise.

The government must respect public opinion by dropping them, and the related proposal to change the Highways Agency's status. Our roads have been paid for by the public and are not up for grabs.”

HMG Infrastructure Bill
PCS analysis of the Bill
Strategic Roads Network map
Opinion poll

Intended 'watchdog body' is the existing 'Passenger Focus' body, to be renamed 'Transport Focus'. It has already taken on a road pricing advocate as 'board adviser': David Leibling, a member of the RAC Foundation's Public Policy Committee and recently on the GLA 'Mayor's Roads Task Force', whose recommendations could hardly be described as motorist-friendly.
Passenger Focus
London Roads Task Force

Passenger Focus is consulting groups that make money out of drivers like the AA (owned by an insurance company) and the RAC (part of the Carlyle Group venture capitalists, with road pricing interests); also pro-road pricing groups like the RAC Foundation and Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT). CfBT is unsympathetic to motorists and road expansion. Other consultees unsympathetic to motorists include Living Streets (aka 'The Pedestrians Association') and Sustrans.
Passenger Focus
Representing Britain's drivers to the government? Or the other way round?
Government press release on roads investment

The small print of the 'Road Investment Strategy: Performance Specification' (p7) reveals the government's intentions towards extra but unspecified "business performance measures'' for Highways England, which can be read as making money out of drivers after the Treasury stated its ambitions for this in the 2012 Budget.
Road investment strategy: performance specification
HM Treasury — Budget 2012
“The coalition government has ruled out national road pricing for cars on existing roads, and any preparation for such a scheme, for the duration of this Parliament” (gov.uk 2011-06-23)
Notes for Editors about the ABD
More press releases