Putting the brakes on carbon emissions, steering towards alternative solutions and driving towards net zero by 2050 is the message from Welsh Government as a new road building policy takes shape.
Road building projects across Wales have been halted as part of a ground-breaking policy that assessed more than 50 schemes against a series of tests on their impact on the climate emergency.
The planned third Menai bridge will not go ahead and neither will the controversial “red route” in Flintshire. The move is part of the Welsh government’s National Transport Plan and follows a year-long review.
All future roads must now pass strict criteria which means they must not increase carbon emissions, they must not increase the number of cars on the road, they must not lead to higher speeds and higher emissions, and they must not negatively impact the environment.
There has been a mixed reaction to the announcement with environmental campaigners supporting the Welsh Government decision, whilst business leaders raise concerns that it may impact on the economy.
Lee Waters, the deputy climate change minister said:
When we published the Wales Transport Strategy two years ago, we committed to start upon a llwybr newydd – a new path.
The publication of this Roads Review, along with the National Transport Delivery Plan, and our new Roads Policy Statement, represents a major step forward on that journey.
Let me be very clear at the outset, we will still invest in roads. In fact, we are building new roads as I speak – but we are raising the bar for where new roads are the right response to transport problems.
We are also investing in real alternatives, including investment in rail, bus, walking and cycling projects.
Of course, doing that in an age of austerity is very challenging. Not only are we not getting our share of HS2 investment, but the UK Government is pushing many bus services over a cliff edge, as well as slashing our capital investment budgets.
Even if we’d wanted to keep progressing all the road schemes in the pipeline we just do not have the money to do so. Our capital budget will be 8% lower next year in real terms as a result of the UK Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure.
With fewer resources it becomes even more important to prioritise and the Roads Review helps us to do that.
On the publication of the Welsh Government’s Road Review, Ben Cottam Head of the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, said:
“The recently published report is substantial and clearly has far-reaching consequences for Welsh Government’s approach to future investment in infrastructure. These are recommendations on which we will want to reflect with the Welsh small business community.
We recognise the significant challenges of moving to net zero, and the need for different conversations and behaviours to make that happen. However, it will need to be made clear how the priorities of the Review have been balanced against the need to grow and develop the Welsh economy and develop the businesses within it, as well as the opportunities to rebalance economic development to some of our rural and more-deprived areas.
The headlines so far may cause concern for some businesses in areas of Wales which desperately need improvement of existing infrastructure, as well as the certainty of resilience of future infrastructure.
The reality for most small businesses is still a necessary dependence on road-based transport. We know there is significant interest and action among small businesses in the opportunities of decarbonising and moving to less carbon intensive transport, but this means that roads will still play an important part in developing the economy.
Depending on the response to the Review, Welsh Government will have to go some way to demonstrate that any decisions won’t impact on regional competitiveness at a time when we seek to level up different regions of Wales.
Whatever the Welsh Government response to this review in the longer term, there is a need for a very substantial increase in investment in public transport to get the modal shift the report sees as necessary and to get public transport to a point that supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and their employees.
The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales will be gauging the response of our members over the coming days as we assess the recommendations of the review.”