Chapter 7.2.1 Strategic approaches

Halt all new trunk road and motorway building

Halting investment in major road building would reduce reliance on car travel and send a clear message about the future of transport.

UK Govt
Scottish Govt
Local Authorities
Emissions reduction
Behaviour change

Scotland spends around £800 million on motorways and trunk roads each year. This is expensive, high-carbon infrastructure, inconsistent with the climate crisis we face. Capital expenditure must be switched toward low-carbon infrastructure, including projects that enable walking, cycling and public transport, and encourage modal shift, if Scotland is to deliver an effective climate emergency response.

Since 2005/06 spending on roads has doubled, whereas funding for trains and buses has remained static or even fallen.155 The active travel budget has been increased but remains low in percentage terms.

The Welsh Government has recently decided to end new road building except in exceptional cases.156 There may be a case for limited local road building for access or genuine safety reasons, or for improvements for public transport or cycling, but the Scottish Government and local authorities should deprioritise additions to the road network. There is also a maintenance backlog of £1.2bn on trunk roads157 and £1.7bn on local authority roads158 that will require increased investment.

This approach has been supported by the Scottish Government’s own Infrastructure Commission, which called for investment to be used to deliver a “substantial increase in the proportion of journeys made by active travel” and “a much greater role for public transport.”159 The Committee on Climate Change is expected to advise the UK Government to halt its road building programme.160

This policy would result in savings of hundreds of millions, which would then be available for expenditure on other low-carbon policies. It would also result in benefits and opportunities in associated public policy areas, including:

  • air quality improvements
  • improvements in sustainable travel alternatives
  • reduced land take for new road construction
  • reduction in long-term conditions associated with poor air quality and/or sedentary activity, meaning cost savings for the NHS

For further information:

Road to nowhere? Calls for Scottish Government to follow Welsh lead and scrap new road building, Courier, 2021,


Scottish budget 2020-21: Free bus travel in SNP-Green deal, BBC News, 2020, 51644373


Welsh Government response to the Roads Review, 2023,


Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee letter to Cabinet Secretary on for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, November 2019, maintenance_issues.pdf


Scottish local road backlog ‘close to £1.7bn,’ Highways Magazine, March 2022, close-to-1.7bn/9579


Phase 1: Key findings report, Scottish Infrastructure Commission, 2020,


Halt new roads and developments adding to emissions, advisers to tell UK government, Guardian, June 2023, https://www.theguardian. com/environment/2023/jun/23/halt-new-roads-and-developments-adding-to-emissions-advisers-to-tell-uk-government?CMP=Share_ iOSApp_Other

Version 1.0: September 2023

The contents of this document will be updated on a regular basis.