Minister tells Gwynedd council to consider its own climate emergency after bypass scrapping ‘betrayal’
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
A Welsh Government minister has suggested that cash diverted from the scrapped Llanbedr bypass project will be reinvested into better public transport and alternative options.
Monday’s announcement that the £14m Llanbedr bypass project will not go ahead has been widely condemned by community leaders in Gwynedd and described as a “betrayal,” with calls for a new road dating back over 50 years.
Accentuated by the narrowness of a listed bridge over the river Artro in the centre of the village, summer traffic is often at a standstill due to street parking and the number of junctions on to the A496 leading into Llanbedr.
But Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, responded to such criticism by urging Gwynedd Council to consider its own decision to declarare a climate emergency in 2019.
He had announced on Monday that the Welsh Government was withdrawing support for the 1.5km project after it failed to meet stricter criteria brought in to try and reduce carbon emissions.
Having paused all road building projects in Wales this past June, a decision on the Llanbedr project had been fast-tracked due to the £7.5m of EU cash that had been earmarked for its construction.
The withdrawal of Welsh Government cash saw the council leader accuse ministers of “sacrificing rural Wales on the alter of climate change where the real problem and the answers lie in our urban areas.”
But responding during Tuesday’s media briefing, Mr Waters told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the authority should be acting upon the climate emergency that councillors themselves declared in 2019.
Noting that although he “understood” local disappointment, he said, “Gwynedd Council declared a climate emergency as did most councils throughout Wales, as did our Senedd.
“It’s no good leaders and decision makers signing up to the principle of taking action on climate change and then when it comes to the actions necessary to follow that through, running away and saying alarming things.
“That just is not the leadership the scale of our times requires us to make.”
Noting that the decision was “not a matter of money,” he added that decision makers wanted to work with Gwynedd Council to look at alternative solutions to tackle local congestion without adding to the climate emergency.
The bypass, awarded planning permission in March 2020, had been designed to improve access to Llanbedr Airfield, with long-running concerns over the volume of traffic heading through the village towards Mochras (Shell Island).
Also known as Snowdonia Aerospace Centre, the site is currently used for testing and developing unmanned drone aircraft for civilian use, and is a cornerstone of economic revival efforts in the area.
But Mr Waters, acknowledging the “difficult situation,” said that the ongoing Cop26 summit in Glasgow was a backdrop to the need to “do things differently.”
“You look at rural Germany, rural Switzerland, far sparser populations than Llanbedr but they have a functioning public transport system.
“We don’t have that here because of Tory privatisation of the buses in the mid-80s, but we’re working to turn that round with proper investment which we’ll free up by cancelling some road schemes.
“We’ll be able to work with local authorities to give people genuine alternatives to the car, since they currently don’t have one.
“But that means some difficult disruptive change in the short term to get to that point, and I appreciate it’s difficult and uncomfortable but I’m afraid it’s what we need to do.”
There had been questions over the £7.5m of European Union funding that had been earmarked for the scheme, but Mr Waters confirmed that “while it won’t be lost to Wales,” it would not facilitate its originally intended purpose.
“The money the Welsh Government was putting on the table, some £3m, remains available to work with Gwynedd to look at sustainable transport solutions in the short term and in the median to long term,” he concluded.
“The reason we’re doing this is not to punish people, It’s to free up resources to give people real alternatives.
“So I anticipate more money going into public transport, by this money saved, to give people in Gwynedd and other part of Wales a better public transport option.”
The decision had been condemned locally however, with the councillor for Llanbedr stating they had been “led up the garden path.”
“Our hopes had been raised that Llanbedr by-pass would be delivered, but those hopes have been dashed and it’s a bitter blow,” said Cllr Annwen Hughes.
“Where does this now leave our community? Where does this leave our economy? What affect will this have on the Welsh Government’s own Llanbedr Airfield site, and the potential there to create jobs for local people?
“This feels like a bitter betrayal from our own Government in Cardiff. Their concerns regarding the climate should also relate to concerns about our community’s health, well-being and future prospects.
“We will continue to oppose this decision and push Ministers to re-look at this issue.”
The furious council leader, Dyfrig Siencyn, added that the decision showed “a complete lack of understanding of a rural situation,” pointing to the desperate need for high quality jobs.
Describing the decision as a “crushing blow,” he added, “The potential increase in carbon emissions from the new road scheme fade into insignificance when compared to the emissions and pollution suffered by the residents of Llanbedr over the summer months, when hundreds of vehicles are at a standstill in the village.
“Moreover it seems that rural areas are now to be consigned into economic deserts and empty communities for the pleasure of those who travel here regardless of their Carbon emissions.
“We are not to have an infrastructure fit for the 21st century and we must be satisfied with a peasant subsistence whilst those in our cities and urban areas can benefit from an efficient public transport system, and ready access to jobs and public services.”
The move has also been condemned by Dwyfor Meirionnydd’s members in both Cardiff Bay and Wesminster, with MS Mabon ap Gwynfor describing the decision as a “kick in the teeth.”
His Westminster counterpart, Liz Saville Roberts MP, concluded, “The volume of traffic driving through Llanbedr or standing idle with engines running is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of residents.
“The lack of decent access to Welsh Government-owned Llanbedr Airfield means that our own government is acting to prevent improvements which would boost the economy of rural north west Wales.”