Roads review: Criticism and praise for Welsh Government’s controversial roads plan

There has been strong support - and strong criticism for the Welsh Government's roads review.

It’s either set Wales on a road to nowhere or it's a road to a better, greener future. There doesn’t seem to be a middle view of the Welsh Government’s National Transport Plan.

The plan, announced by the Deputy Minister for Transport, Lee Waters, tore up virtually all road-building schemes that were in progress and scrapped, altered or delayed them.

In the Senedd, he acknowledged how difficult the impact of the decisions would be for many of those who’ve campaigned for individual projects.

He said: "None of this is easy, but neither is the alternative.

"The UN general secretary has warned that, unless we act decisively now, we face a climate catastrophe.

"I say this with all sincerity to all Members: if we are to declare a climate and nature emergency, legislate to protect the well-being of future generations, which we've done, and put into law a requirement to reach net zero by 2050, we simply have to be prepared to follow through, and I'm very grateful to the roads review panel for helping us set out a way to do that."

Conservatives have been vocal in their criticism of what they see as the Labour Welsh Government’s “anti-car, anti-motorist” agenda so it’s no surprise that their shadow transport minister, Natasha Asghar described the plan as causing "the misery, mayhem and uncertainty."

She went on to say that “it's clear to me that all of this today, mixed with the blanket 20 mph speed limit roll-out and the rumoured congestion charge going forward, only further highlight Labour's anti-car, anti-growth, anti-job agenda. For me, it's seems like Labour's transport strategy is in complete chaos."

But it’s not only political opponents who have been critical. Labour Senedd Members and MPs have voiced their concerns.

The former Labour Economy and Transport minister, Ken Skates, criticised the scrapping of schemes without adequate alternatives being in place, particularly public transport.

He told MSs: "I rather fear that the cart is being put before the horse today, and has rolled over it.

"Alternative public transport options really must exist if people are to get out of their cars, and that's what the Wales transport strategy was designed to deliver, but it's hard to find any new alternatives in today's announcement."

With some Labour politicians suggesting that the Transport Plan unfavourably affects the North, he went on to suggest that decisions about the north shouldn’t be taken in the south, asking the deputy minister to “agree to commence the devolution of responsibilities and funding for north Wales trunk roads to north Wales?”

Lee Waters said: "In terms of the geographical spread, of the 17 schemes that are going ahead in the national transport delivery plan, five are in north Wales, five are in mid Wales, so I don't think the case that there's geographical bias here stands scrutiny."

Deputy Minister for Transport, Lee Waters tore up virtually all road-building schemes that were in progress. Credit: ITV News

But a similar complaint about a lack of public transport alternatives was made by another Labour MS, Blaenau Gwent’s Alun Davies.

He said: "In the real world, it is the Welsh Government that is taking services further away from people.

"It was the Welsh Government, of course, that funded a new hospital [the Grange hospital near Cwmbran] without any public transport links at all for my constituents, and I've come back here for the last six, seven years, and been assured by every Minister who's held that portfolio that public transport links would be provided, and they haven't been. They haven't been today."Lee Waters said he understood, adding that he agreed “We need public transport to be on the doorstep for people to turn up and go.

"And one of the purposes of redirecting our roads pipeline is to free up finance in future years to allow that investment to take place."


However there has also been strong support both for the roads review itself and for the Welsh Government’s decisions.

In the chamber, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds welcomed the announcements.

She added: "For too long, we’ve spent millions on new roads with no real improvements in road safety or congestion where we need it most.

"At the same time, successive Labour Governments in Cardiff Bay have left public transport, the best way to encourage more sustainable travel, to suffer.

"We now need a long-term plan to invest in safer roads, public transport, and tackling air pollution in our communities."

Haf Eglar, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said yesterday’s report and the Welsh Government’s announcements were “a breath of fresh air.”

She said: "This world-leading report is a breath of fresh air that promises a greener and fairer transport system in Wales. The response of the Welsh Government shows they are serious about tackling the climate emergency.

"We must break the cycle of building more roads for more cars – it will only create more congestion, make our air more polluted, and increase the emissions that are wrecking our climate.

"For the sake of the planet and our health, we need investment in better walking and cycling routes, and vastly improved public transport across Wales, including rural areas, to make it easier for people to leave the car at home."

And Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, said: “The Welsh Government’s Roads Review marks the most significant change in UK roads building policy over the last 20 years.

"The proposals are 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."

Third Menai Crossing

Some of the strongest criticism has been voiced about the decision to scrap plans for a third bridge across the Menai Straits.

Recent problems on the original Menai Bridge have shown how easily travel to and from Anglesey can be badly disrupted.

Speaking in the chamber, Plaid Cymru MS for Ynys Môn, Rhun ap Iorwerth said that the decision “has taken us back a good 15 years, undoing the good work of my predecessor, Ieuan Wyn Jones, when he was transport Minister, undoing the good work of your predecessors in mapping out why the case had been made for a third Menai crossing and which routes should be pursued and why.

He said too that the decision “runs contrary to the Government's own policy” of improving resilience and reducing reliance on the original Menai Bridge.

Plans for a third Menai crossing will not go ahead Credit: David Jones/PA

In response, Lee Waters said: "I hear what he says about resilience; we have to balance short-term resilience with a longer term resilience to the climate change issues."

There was further criticism from the island’s local authority.

A spokesperson for the Isle of Anglesey council said that "Whilst recognising the importance of tackling climate change, it is immensely disappointing that the issue of resilience across the Menai Strait will not be resolved in the near future."

"Providing the necessary resilience to enable the people and economy of the Island to operate effectively, whilst maintaining access to essential services should be a priority."

"The recent closure of the Menai Suspension Bridge demonstrates the negative impacts of not having resilient and dependable connectivity between the Island and mainland Wales, not just for local travel but to service the international Port of Holyhead. We will continue to collaborate and to make the case for investment."

Flintshire 'red route'

There has also been criticism of the decision to scrap a plan known as the “red route” in Flintshire which would have included an eight mile stretch of dual carriageway linking the A55 and A494.

Another Labour backbencher, Jack Sargeant, said that he was “deeply disappointed” because he said that “ul‌‌‍‌timately, this project was about reducing air pollution.”

He added: "It's time for you to deliver now. My constituents need immediate action; they don't need more reviews."

Lee Waters said: "I understand the strength of feeling there is in the local area to address the air quality concerns, and that is why we have decided to look at Aston Hill as a separate case."

However another Labour politician, the leader of Flintshire County Council Ian Roberts, said that “The Council is concerned that there are currently no alternative solutions being put forward and no funding for much needed improvement works to local transport infrastructure."