Our economy specialist Robyn Evans looks at the latest discussion on transport policy.
AMs to vote on M4 Relief Road
This week it was confirmed that a decision on whether to go ahead with the M4 relief road project will be made before Carwyn Jones steps down as First Minister in December. Welsh Government officials have received the findings of the public inquiry inspector’s report and are preparing advice for ministers. AMs will have a binding vote on the controversial project, which will take place in the week commencing Monday 4th December.
It is unclear whether a majority of AMs will support the Welsh Government’s favoured black route, a 14-mile stretch of motorway expected to cost £1.4bn, with a number of Labour AMs opposed to the scheme. Labour’s Lee Waters, an advocate for active travel and decarbonisation of the transport sector, has been vocal in his opposition to the project. This week, he raised concerns that the abolition of the Severn tolls is being used to force the Welsh Government to build the relief road, accusing the UK Government of trying to dictate transport policy to Wales.
This comes after a UK Government study revealed that the abolition of tolls may lead to an additional six million vehicles a year, which will hasten the requirement for upgrades to the network. Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns dismissed the claims, highlighting support for the project from the business community who argue that economic opportunities for the region, such as the scrapping of the tolls and the opening of the International Convention Centre Wales, will not be fully realised until congestion around the Brynglas tunnels is tackled.
Activists are concerned about the environmental impact of building the motorway on the Gwent Levels and Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe recently argued that the black route does not reflect the ambition of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, instead calling for greater investment in public transport.
Speaking at this week’s First Minister’s Questions, Leader of the House Julie James suggested that building could start as early as next year if the project gets the go ahead. After almost three decades of debate on the subject, this will be one of the most significant decisions made during Carwyn Jones’ premiership, and discussion will intensify over the coming weeks.
Wales and Borders Rail Franchise
This week marks the second week of Transport for Wales’ takeover of the Wales and Borders rail franchise, overseen by the Welsh Government. Transport Secretary Ken Skates fielded questions on the franchise in the Chamber on Wednesday, with Conservative AM Russell George highlighting passengers’ disappointment that the same old trains are being used by the new operator. Mr Skates was clear that change will not happen overnight and that £40m will be spent improving the old Arriva Trains Wales stock inherited by Transport for Wales whilst it awaits new rolling stock. The first of the new trains should appear in 2021 and every single train on the network should be replaced by 2023. With the biggest changes to services not taking place for at least a few years, and the public still feeling the frustration of old and overcrowded trains, discussion on the franchise shows no signs of stopping.
HS2 Funding Concerns
In his new role as Plaid Cymru’s economy spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth raised concerns that Wales will miss out on millions of pounds every year through the UK Government’s HS2 project, accusing the Welsh Government of failing to secure the full consequential funding. The concern follows last year’s cancellation of the electrification of the railway to Swansea and anxiety that HS2 will hamper south Wales’ potential as a business location outside of London. Addressing the matter, Ken Skates has said the Welsh Government has made clear to the UK Government that alongside a consequential, it would like to see greater investment in mitigating any adverse impact on the south Wales economy and ensuring that opportunities for north Wales are maximised as a result of the project.
Featured image: analogicus via Pixabay