Sustrans Cymru backs 'Yes' campaign in Welsh referendum on law-making powers

Shifting powers from Westminster to Cardiff would speed up process & end frustration, says charity

by Simon_MacMichael   February 10, 2011  

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Sustrans Cymru has given its backing to the ‘Yes’ campaign in next month’s referendum in Wales over the legislative powers of the Welsh National Assembly, with the sustainable transport charity highlighting the frustration caused by the legisative process in the principality currently hampered as a result of laws having to be approved by Westminster.

Currently, the Welsh National Assembly can only legislate on topics where it has received permission under a Legislative Competence Order (LCO) passed by the UK Parliament in Westminster, but if the ‘Yes’ campaign wins the referendum on March 3, it will be able to make its own laws.

Lee Waters, director of Sustrans Cymru, told the website Wales Online: “If the referendum is won a significant hurdle to progress will be removed. We’ve spent time and effort putting together a proposal to Whitehall to get them to give the Assembly powers to impose a duty on highway authorities. If there’s a Yes vote on March 3, our AMs [Assembly Members] would be able to pass this law without having to ask permission.”

He continued: “It has been an enormously time-consuming and difficult process to navigate. After the last Assembly election when AMs acquired their new powers, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer, made a plea for organisations with good ideas to come forward. Few did, and many more have been put off by our experience.

“The experience has persuaded Sustrans – as a UK charity – to officially back a Yes vote, which is quite a step for us.”

Wales Online highlighted the case of a proposed law intended to assure safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians that has been stymied by the long-drawn out legislative process. In October 2007, a petition calling for the law was presented to the Welsh National Assembly whose members backed it, but since then no progress has been made because the body has no powers to enact the legislation.

One of those presenting the petition was Steffan Rayment from Cardiff, then a toddler but now aged six, whose father Alastair commented: “I signed the petition back in 2007 because there are a couple of unsafe places on the cycling route to school that could be improved. Years have gone by, nothing has been done, and the same problems are there.

“It seems a waste of time to deal with people at the council or the Assembly because nothing happens. If voting Yes will help get things done quicker, I’m for it.”

That petition, co-ordinated by Sustrans, sought a duty to be imposed on highway authorities to build and maintain an off-road cycle and walking network and was accepted by the Welsh National Enterprise and Learning Committee, which undertook to sponsor the necessary LCO. It also received support from Children’s Commissioner for Wales and the Association of Chief Constables, as well as the Assembly Government.

Since it was presented three and a half years ago, however, it has become entangled in bureaucratic red tape. Wales Online reports that the LCO has been signed off by the Assembly Government, the Wales Office, the Department for Transport and Defra, but still has a long way to go.

The next step will be scrutiny of the LCO by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, after which it will go before the House of Commons and the House of Lords, then back to the Welsh National Assembly to receive final approval.

That is unlikely to happen any time soon, however, since there is insufficient time for it to go through that final stage of the process before the May 5 Welsh Assembly elections.

Assembly Member Nerys Evans of Plaid Cymru, a member of the Enterprise and Learning Committee, said: “This proposal has taken an extremely long time. It is very frustrating.”