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Welsh government review “most significant change” in UK roads building policy in 20 years, says Cycling UK

According to the review, future road investment will only be considered for projects that reduce carbon emissions, support a shift to cycling, walking, and public transport, and improve safety

Cycling UK has praised the Welsh government’s decision to halt or amend almost all major road building projects – which forms part of a new transport plan that aims to reduce carbon emissions, improve road safety, and prioritise cycling, walking, and public transport use – as “the most significant change in UK roads building policy over the last 20 years”.

The charity’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, says the move to delay, change, or even scrap over 50 schemes across Wales, as well as “raising the bar for where new roads are the right response to transport problems”, represents a “marked shift from other UK administrations’ simplistic and outdated views of building more roads as the answer to all transport woes from congestion to poor air quality”.

59 road-building projects have been on hold in Wales since June 2021, when the then-newly re-elected Labour government announced the creation of an independent expert review panel, which reassessed the schemes against a series of tests concerning their environmental impact.

The findings of the year-long review, headed by transport expert Dr Lynn Sloman and published yesterday alongside the Welsh government’s decision, recommended that only 15 of the 59 assessed projects will go ahead as planned, with others set to be revised, postponed, or shelved entirely.

The controversial ‘red route’ scheme in Flintshire, a planned major new road which threatened ancient woodland, is one of the projects that will not go ahead, with improvements instead set to be made to the A494 at Aston Hill. Meanwhile, plans for a third Menai crossing between Anglesey and the mainland have been halted in favour of a review exploring congestion, the resilience of current bridges, and alternative modes of transport.

 Most notably, as recommended by the independent review, the Welsh government has introduced a strict criteria for all future road-building projects.

According to this criteria, investment will only be considered for road schemes if they:

  • Reduce carbon emissions and support a shift to public transport, walking, and cycling
  • improve safety through small-scale change
  • help the Welsh Government adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • provide connections to jobs and areas of economic activity in a way that maximises the use of public transport, walking, and cycling

“We will still invest in roads,” Wales’ deputy climate change minister Lee Waters told the Senedd yesterday.

“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.

“Our approach for the last 70 years is not working. As the review points out, the by-pass that was demanded to relieve congestion often ends up leading to extra traffic, which in time brings further demands for extra lanes, wider junctions, and more roads.

“Round and round we go, emitting more and more carbon as we do it, and we will not get to Net Zero unless we stop doing the same thing over and over.”

Responding to the Welsh government’s National Transport Plan, Cycling UK’s Duncan Dollimore praised the proposals as “bold in principle and forward looking as they realise the economic benefit of placing people and the environment at the heart of transport policy.

“This is a marked shift from other UK administrations’ simplistic and outdated views of building more roads as the answer to all transport woes from congestion to poor air quality.”

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However, the National Transport Plan has been criticised by one of Labour’s former transport ministers, Ken Skates, who accused his party and the independent review of “ignoring citizens”.

Pointing to the decision to scrap planned improvements to the A483 around Wrexham, Skates told BBC Wales that the project was “planned to remove the traffic from those local roads that were polluting the air, [and] that are damaging the environment because of sky-high carbon emissions.

“I’m concerned that the panel didn’t actually engage with any communities, as far as I’m aware. It didn’t engage with locally elected members. The engagement with council highways officers was very poor.

“What we had is a diktat which says basically a decision has been made 140 miles away, that vitally important infrastructure works will not go ahead, and by the way there are no alternatives that we can tell you about today.”

Waters, meanwhile, accepted that the new “ground-breaking” policy would attract some criticism, but insisted that “it’s always difficult to make decisions with short-term pain for long-term gain”.

“None of this is easy but neither is the alternative,” he said.

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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