New Welsh transport strategy falls short

Simon Shouler
24 March 2021

Is the Welsh government’s transport strategy a new approach to local planning, or a blinkered national transport strategy? Simon Shouler asks some key questions. Responding to the Welsh government’s consultation, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) supported the draft transport strategy as far as it goes. The strategy, Llwybr Newydd: a new Wales transport strategy, embraces contemporary policy, providing a framework to encourage a change in behaviour.

The travel hierarchy is logical and with the right funding stream in place could change how we travel into and around our towns. However, the hierarchy’s emphasis is on travel modes over which the Welsh government has no powers to deliver. The strategy deals comprehensively with urban travel – the “low hanging fruit” – but ACE’s concern is that the document lacks high-level strategic planning.

Local economies only survive if there are dependable and reliable strategic links in place. And there’s the rub. There is little in the strategy to address inter-urban and rural travel, and more worrying, the vision is largely introspective and stops at the Welsh border.

The strategy would fail to consolidate Wales’ place within the UK, mainland Europe and beyond. Wales needs efficient and reliable international transport links to sustain industry and attract new inward investment, particularly along the M4 corridor and from Deeside and north west England. The strategy does mention the South East Wales Transport Commission, but there is no indication as to how this will reduce M4 congestion.

The commission’s terms of reference require it to consider the problems, opportunities, challenges and objectives for tackling congestion on the M4 in South East Wales and make recommendations on a suite of alternative solutions in the light of the first minister’s 4 June 2019 statement that the Black Route should not proceed.  What is absent from the terms of reference is a quantitative outcome for the “alternative solutions”. Without appraisal, it is not possible to test either the effectiveness, or the value for money of any interventions.

The elephant in the room of course is the new M4’s common appraisal framework. This looked at enhancing public transport and concluded that pound for pound a new motorway would outperform improving public transport. The commission’s recommendations address 10-50-mile journeys in the Newport area focusing on rail, bus and active travel.

There is no surprise here, given that Mark Drakeford has written off the road-based solution.  However, what is not clear is what the M4 will look like to inward investors going forward. The M4 corridor’s resilience and its ability to function following road traffic incidents did not feature in the terms of reference. Similarly, in the north-eastern sector, the minister’s announcement to defer taking forward work on the A55 Deeside Parkway Junction strikes a familiar chord.

Improved cross-border services and connectivity are vital to serve economic hubs that span the Wales/England border. Industry needs a strong message that Wales is open for business. The strategy does not deliver this.

So, with border councils and members of industry, trade organisations and professional institutions calling for improved connectivity and cross-border cooperation, what are Wales transport minister Ken Skates’s proposals for improving connectivity with England and Northern Ireland?

And how would the strategy deliver better inter-urban and rural transportation throughout Wales?

Simon Shouler is the Wales manager for the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.