How can Wales combat congestion while tackling the climate emergency?

It's something every driver has experienced - traffic congestion, but how can we ease our road problems, without building new ones?

The Welsh Government announced in June that almost all road building would be paused, while it launched a review looking into highway development and more environmentally friendly options as well as maintaining existing roads.

It follows Wales setting itself a target of reaching Net Zero emissions by 2050 with transport currently accounting for 17% of emissions. The Government hopes the freeze will help it focus on alternative travel to help cut these emissions.

But for many people living in cities and towns across Wales, congestion is not just an annoyance, but causes air pollution and many, like residents in Chepstow, see a bypass as a viable solution. The town is seeing a rise in the number of people moving to the area, which is attractive to commuters to Bristol as well as Cardiff and Newport.

Jeremy Becker, who runs the Chepstow & Sedbury Bypass Action Group, says heavy diesel vehicles travelling through the small and narrow roads of the town is bad for the environment and is why the bypass is desperately needed.

Jeremy Becker say a bypass must be built in Chepstow.

He feels it is a problem that will not go away either with Chepstow's growing population.

"There's a lot of building of houses going on, on the other side of the small river and in Chepstow itself.

"The main route that was built back in the 70s through Chepstow is down a hill with a kink in it, alongside a medieval town and all around the area you're hemmed in by wonderful countryside.

"There are limited opportunities to build houses but also a massive growth area for housing with thousands of homes destined to be built on the Severn site and into Gloucestershire.

Mr Becker, who is also a local Liberal Democrat councillor in the area, thinks there is simply no choice but to build a bypass.

Locals say a bypass would alleviate traffic on some of Chepstow's main roads.

But Wales' Deputy Climate Change Minister, Lee Waters, says new roads are going to become the exception to the rule.

"The approach of let's keep building more roads to keep up with demand has led us to the gridlock we now see, it simply doesn't work. The climate change targets mean we need to pause and reflect and change course.

"Generally dealing with congestion by carpeting the country with bypasses, while adding extra lanes to already jammed motorways, is simply repeating the mistakes of the past. We need a shift towards public transport."

For Ian Chandler, a Green Party activist in the town, he agrees.

"Every time a bypass is built it actually increases traffic, it doesn't take it away.

"It's much better to look at the alternatives. So here in Chepstow, it's improving bus routes, improving bus frequency, improving train frequency, integrated ticketing, making sure the timetables actually match, so you can get from one to the other.

"All of those things could make a huge difference."

The Deputy Climate Change Minister thinks a different course to road building is needed.

Mr Waters did admit that big investment is needed in public transport and the only way to get that is to stop investing in huge road building projects and put money into projects that can benefit everyone overall. 

However, Mr Becker thinks public transport projects will not be enough to deal with Chepstow's air pollution problem.

"I think there are some quick fixes we can do with traffic markings which will help but it's never going to solve the problem. We're only going to see an increase of traffic, even if people switch to all electric cars tomorrow, we still have inadequate public transport links.

"In fact our public transport links are getting worse, our train links to Bristol are getting worse, our train links to Cardiff are getting worse, our bus links are going to get worse, there is no longterm win without a bypass. 

"I would love to fix this problem with green infrastructure and better public transport links but those are not forthcoming and we have a longstanding issue that needs to be resolved."

But what do the experts say on new road building and the impact on the environment?

Clearly it is an issue that divides opinion.

Dr Georgina Santos is a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University and specialises in environmental and transport economics.

She says the problem with building any new road is that it will generate new traffic.

Dr Georgina Santos is an expert on air pollution. She says road building must be considered on a case by case basis.

"There is something that we call induced traffic. What that means essentially is that some trips that were not made before, will be made because of the new road.

 "Once there is a new road it's easier to make a journey... now you have this alternative where you can travel quite fast, so people can be attracted onto new roads and that's how new roads generate traffic. 

"What we need to do with road building is rather than saying we're not building anymore roads, is to look at each case and conduct a full appraisal of the project. 

"The main problem with air pollution in Chepstow is really the A48 and there's quite a bit of through-traffic.

"The way to go about this is not just one solution, we need to look at several alternatives, so the bypass is certainly one."

Dr Santos says the other alternatives include banning old polluting vehicles, like those that go back to 2005 and beyond. She also says good public transport infrastructure is essential, which is where the Government needs to step in and invest.

People will now be penalised for going above the 50mph speed limit of some of Wales' busiest roads.

One other way the Welsh Government has been looking at reducing carbon emissions is through reducing speed limits.

It announced last week that motorists will now be fined if they exceed the 50mph speed limit on some of Wales' most polluted roads.

Tim Shallcross from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, says reducing speed limits does reduce pollution because travelling at 50mph burns less fuel. But he believes people's attitudes need to change for this to properly work.

"People in a sense seem to regard a speed limit as only present if a camera is present. We all need to be sensible about this.

"We all live in neighbourhoods where we want to reduce pollution so we all need to have a responsible thought for the people in those neighbourhoods where the speed limit is reduced."

On the matter of road building, Mr Shallcross also believes getting people onto public transport is about changing attitudes but an outright ban on road projects is not the right way to go.

"Road building has to go ahead, we're a society now that moves around otherwise we're in danger of retreating to medieval times.

"We need to do it without destroying the planet.

"Winning the hearts and minds is an excellent way of doing that rather than just trying to force people onto public transport where in many cases it simply doesn't exist."

Monmouthshire Council leader Councillor Richard John is trying to take an open approach to the congestion problem in Chepstow but ultimately he believes the town needs a bypass.

The leader of Monmouthshire County Council believes ultimately Chepstow needs a bypass.

"We want the Welsh government to take more of a pragmatic approach rather than a blanket ban on road building because actually a 300 yard stretch of a bypass on the Welsh side could significantly improve the air quality and reduce congestion in Chepstow." 

What is certain is the town, like so many across Wales must get a handle on air pollution before it considerably affects people's health, if it has not already.

For those that think a bypass is the answer to the problem, it looks like they will be disappointed for sometime due to the current direction of the Welsh Government.

See more on this story on Sharp End on Monday evening on ITV at 11pm. You can also catch-up here.