Closure of Menai Bridge ‘outrageous’ while expanding the Senedd says Penny Mordaunt
The Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt has said that the closure of the Menai Suspension Bridge, while the Senedd is being expanded from 60 to 96 members, is “outrageous”.
Speaking today she said that it was “another example of the Welsh Labour Government’s deprioritising the people of north Wales”.
The Menai Suspension Bridge linking the island to the mainland was shut suddenly last Friday, with the Welsh Government stating that emergency maintenance work was required to fix a structural issue.
The closure of the almost 200-year-old bridge designed by Thomas Telford has led to large tailbacks on both sides of the Menai Strait as cars must use the one remaining Brittania bridge. It could now be closed until early next year.
On Tuesday the Deputy Climate Change Minister, Lee Waters said that a third crossing could cost £400m and take seven years to build.
Today, the House of Commons today Penny Mordaunt answered a question by Anglesey’s Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie who said that expanding the Senedd would cost £100m.
“Yet Welsh Labour Government continue to deprioritise north Wales: the sudden closure of the Menai bridge last Friday, with no warning, will bring months of chaos to my constituents,” Virginia Crosbie MP said.
“Does the Leader of the House agree that the Welsh Labour Government should be prioritising the maintenance of key transport links, not increasing the number of politicians?”
Penny Mordaunt answered: “My honourable friend is right, and this is another example of the Welsh Labour Government’s deprioritising the people of north Wales.
“I heard about the bridge closure, which is outrageous, but she is doing everything she should in her work on getting a freeport and on championing nuclear power and infrastructure to support that industry.”
On Tuesday Ynys Môn Senedd Member Rhun ap Iorwerth today called on the Welsh Government to act quickly to ensure that the bridge is re-opened at the earliest opportunity, and to proceed with the construction of a mooted third bridge over the Menai.
But Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, who is responsible for roads said that a third bridge would not provide an answer in the near future.
“It would cost somewhere in the order of £400 million,” he said. “That’s the current estimate.
“So, it’s a significant decision to make and investment to make. As you know, it’s been reviewed as part of the roads review panel, along with all other schemes in Wales, and we’ll also be asking the Burns review in north Wales to look at what contingencies could be put in place in the short term.
“Even were we to start to build it now, the process takes somewhere around seven years. These things are expensive and slow. So, we will be asking Burns to address the issue of resilience in the longer term, and that report will be available next year.”
Lee Waters added that there were also shorter-term contingency plans being drafted, and initial options in this plan include the options to:
- increase park-and-ride facilities,
- create potential stacking site options
- review the rail use to and from the island.
Ynys Môn Senedd Member Rhun ap Iorwerth however said that he was particularly concerned about the impact of the closure on emergency services.
“It is difficult to overstate the impact of closing the Menai bridge on my constituents,” he said.
“There are three main things to consider – firstly, steps being taken to keep traffic flowing and to mitigate the risks that arise. Secondly, how was this allowed to happen in the first place and how do we find the first way to reopen safely? And thirdly what will be the response to this in order to ensure resilience in the long term?
“We must hear about concrete measures being taken to respond to the situation urgently – this includes ensuring that emergency services have access to and from the island, and that key staff can get to their place of work swiftly, and safely.”
Rhun ap Iorwerth added: “We need a new crossing as I have called for over the years for exactly this purpose – to ensure resilience in our transport infrastructure.
“A three-lane system during ‘peak flow’ was considered, but government officials ultimately decided that the bridge was too narrow for that. It may be possible to look at implementing something like that temporarily now, but the truth is that a permanent, durable solution is needed.
“It’s one thing to be an island, it’s another thing to be isolated. And that is the reality that has now been exposed. I am looking forward to a commitment to urgently resume the work of developing the new crossing.”
‘North and south’
Conservative Transport Spokesperson Natasha Asghar said in the Senedd on Tuesday that it was important that the Menai bridge “which is a vital artery” was reopened as soon as possible.
“I firmly believe that this fiasco further highlights the Welsh Government’s neglect of north Wales and shows there is still a major divide between the north and the south,” she said.
She added: “Motorists are now expected to use the Britannia bridge while the Menai is closed. This is simply not going to work, Deputy Minister, especially now as we’re heading into winter, when the Britannia bridge is regularly closed due to high winds.
“What happens if the Britannia bridge is forced to close while the Menai is closed?”
Lee Waters replied that they responded to the need to close the bridge as soon as they were told about concerns about its safety.
“And as I explained, we could have waited till the end of the weekend and given advance notice that the bridge would be closing on Monday, but, on reflection, we thought that would be imprudent; had something happened, that would have been unforgivable,” he said.
“And given the weight of the advice we were getting from the structural engineers, it was clearly the right thing to do to act immediately, in the full knowledge this would cause distress and inconvenience, which we deeply regret, but we felt this was the responsible thing to do.”
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