Menai Bridge closure makes case for ‘UK-wide transport infrastructure network’ says Welsh Tory MP
The closure of the Menai Suspension Bridge makes the case for an “UK-wide transport infrastructure network” a Welsh Conservative MP has said.
The bridge between the Welsh mainland and Anglesey was closed two weeks ago because of safety concerns about the brittle nature of hangers installed in 1938.
Roads in Wales are devolved to the Welsh Government but maintenance of the bridge has been contracted to a company called UK Highways A55 Ltd.
Aberconwy MP Robin Millar however suggested that as a UK-wide transport network would provide the “capacity” to ensure that the bridge was maintained and that it was time to discuss the “ownership and operation” of the bridge.
He pointed to the Union Connectivity Review by Sir Peter Hendy published last year which suggested creating “a strategic transport network for the whole of the United Kingdom” including cross-border connections between Wales and England.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Robin Millar MP said: “There is a gap where Sir Peter Hendy’s review talked about the establishment of a UK-wide transport infrastructure network, and the ownership and investment into that.
“I do not think that anybody is saying—the Minister was not suggesting—that the bridge should not have been closed if that was required on safety grounds, but there is a question of capacity and resilience, how that is managed and where that planning can take place.
“Perhaps the capacity for that would lie in a UK-wide transport infrastructure network. Does he think that this road and that bridge would fit well within that characterisation?”
The new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Vale of Clwyd MP Dr James Davies, said that the UK Government would take his comments on board.
“He is right that this is a strategic route and a trunk road,” he said.
“The Union connectivity review highlights the importance of such roads. When the Government respond to that review, we need to consider his comments.”
James Davies also accused the Welsh Government of “coasting along in neutral” when it came to road infrastructure in Wales.
“In the immediate term, the Welsh Government should publish a timetable for the completion of repairs and the reopening of the bridge.,” he said.
“That reassurance is the least that residents facing ongoing uncertainty while maintenance is carried out should receive.
“As a matter of urgency, I also urge the Welsh Government to allow access across the Menai bridge for emergency vehicles if that can be safely facilitated.”
Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie meanwhile said that the closure of the bridge was “typical of the disdain in which Cardiff holds north Wales and the United Kingdom”.
“It is the critical infrastructure of the UK that is being destroyed by a Welsh Labour Government that simply do not care, supported by a co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru—a party, incidentally, which would rather see Wales an independent third-world nation than bring new nuclear and good quality jobs to Ynys Môn, simply because a large power station at Wylfa would generate more energy than Wales alone needs so some might go to England,” she said.
She also accused the Welsh Government of referring to UK Highways A55 Ltd as ‘UK Highways’ in order to “disingenuously” suggest that the UK Government was in charge of the bridge.
“That has led many local people—including, bizarrely, the local Labour party—to assert incorrectly that this is a UK Government issue,” she said.
“With so many seats in north Wales now Conservative, are the Welsh Labour Government concerned that local people feel closer to Westminster than they do to Cardiff? Do they feel the need to drive a wedge between north Wales and Westminster?”
Last week 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 last week 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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