Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Why did UK governments cut road building in the 1990s and expand it after 2010?

Melia, Steve


Steven Melia
Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning



Why did a Conservative UK government decide to cut back road building during a time of austerity in the 1990s, whereas a Conservative-led Coalition government decided to substantially increase road building during a time of austerity after 2010? This study aims to answer that question drawing on 32 interviews with ministers, advisors and others, and secondary analysis of media coverage and public opinion. It uses Critical Realist methods in a more specific way than previous studies, representing the key actors, causal mechanisms and changes in underlying social structures in diagrammatic form. It concludes that three mechanisms: a rational response to changing transport circumstances, changing economic ideology prompted by the recession of 2007-9 and public opinion, influenced by the protest movement in the 1990s, explain the contrasting decisions. It identifies key actors who influenced government decisions and explains how a Critical Realist analysis questions the traditional concept in transport studies of causal factors and their relative importance.


Melia, S. (2019). Why did UK governments cut road building in the 1990s and expand it after 2010?. Transport Policy, 81, 242-253.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 15, 2019
Online Publication Date Jul 16, 2019
Publication Date Sep 1, 2019
Deposit Date Jul 31, 2019
Publicly Available Date Nov 30, -0001
Journal Transport Policy
Print ISSN 0967-070X
Electronic ISSN 1879-310X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 81
Pages 242-253
Keywords road building, UK politics, demand management, critical realist methodology
Public URL
Publisher URL