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The transformation of transport policy in Great Britain? ‘New Realism’ and New Labour’s decade of displacement activity

  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


In 1999 Goodwin announced ‘the transformation of transport policy in Great Britain’. His central point was that consensus was emerging among policy makers and academics, based on earlier work, including “Transport: the new realism '', which rejected previous orthodoxy that the supply of road space could and should be continually expanded to match demand. Instead, a combination of investment in public transport, walking and cycling opportunities, and—crucially—demand management, should form the basis of transport policy to address rising vehicle use and associated increases in congestion and pollution/carbon emissions. This thinking formed the basis of the 1997 Labour government’s ‘sustainable transport’ policy, but after thirteen years in power ministers had neither transformed policy nor tackled longstanding transport trends. Our main aim in this paper is to revisit the concept of New Realism and reexamine its potential utility as an agent of change in British transport policy. Notwithstanding the outcome of Labour’s approach to transport policy, we find that the central tenets of the New Realism remain robust and that the main barriers to change are related to broader political and governance issues which suppress radical policy innovation.

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