News in brief: Welsh Secretary presses the case for M4 relief road
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart will emphasise the Tories commitment to building an M4 relief road during a visit to a haulage company in Newport this afternoon.
In the manifesto for next month’s Senedd election, the Welsh Conservatives have pledged to spend £2 billion on improving infrastructure, including the delivery of the M4 Relief Road around Newport.
The Welsh Government abandoned plans to build the road in June 2019 on cost grounds, estimated at anything between £1.3-1.7 billion and after spending £157 on a public inquiry.
Plans for a relief road were first proposed in 1991 to alleviate traffic congestion issues around the Brynglas tunnels, which are used at peak times by between 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles per hour.
During his visit to the Monex Group, Mr Hart will say: “The M4 is one of the most important arterial routes in the UK and is the spine of the southern UK economic corridor.
“Everyone recognises that this gateway is being choked just as you arrive into Wales, restricting economic growth from Newport all the way to Pembrokeshire, making life and business a nightmare for companies such as Monex Group.
“The Welsh Labour Government continues to ignore the problem and instead offers distractions that will hardly skim the surface.
“The easiest way to get this project over the line is by voting for a Welsh Conservative Government in May who can work with myself and others in UK Government to get diggers in the ground as soon as possible.
“People in Wales have had enough of false promises and want a devolved Government that will get things done.”
New figures confirm huge jump in NHS waiting lists
Figures released by Stats Wales have revealed that over half a million people are waiting for treatment on NHS waiting lists due to the backlogs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The NHS in Wales cancelled most non-urgent treatment when the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020 to ensure their was sufficient capacity to deal with increasing numbers of Covid patients.
According to the data, up to February this year 549,353 people were awaiting treatment or surgery – a 19% rise in a year and the highest number ever recorded.
Of those, almost 218,000 had been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment.
The disruption caused by the pandemic also led to a big increase in people waiting for diagnostic tests. In February 2020, 1,752 people were waiting more than 14 weeks for a test. Twelve months on, the number waiting has jumped to over 38,000.
Meanwhile, one more person has died due to coronavirus and there have been 63 positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours, according to the latest figures released by Public Health Wales
The latest death was reported in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area.
Two local authorities, Conwy and Merthyr Tydfil, reported no new cases and the remaining 20 recorded only single digit increases.
Gwynedd had nine new cases, the highest number in the country, and has the highest weekly case rate at 28.9 per 10,000 people and the highest positive test proportion at 3.5% per 100,000 tests.
The National case rate has fallen from 15.2 to 14.6 and the test rate is down .1 to 1.6% since yesterday.
1,727,455 people have now received their first vaccine and 635,655 have had both jabs.
DVLA staff to stage second walkout over safety fears
Staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea will stage a second a four-day strike next month over Covid safety concerns.
One member of staff has died and 500 more have tested positive for the disease since September and a coronavirus outbreak was declared at the agency’s headquarters in December.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union voted for strike action by 71.6% on a turnout of 50% in March.
Members of the union will walk out for four days from May 4 following industrial action earlier this month.
The union is calling for a reduction in the number of staff who need to go into the office to work.
Just 250 of 6,000 staff were working from the office at the beginning of the pandemic, but that number has since increased to over 2,000 the union says.
“The arrogance and intransigence of DVLA senior management is outrageous and our members have been left with no choice but to take further strike action,” the union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka said.
“DVLA and ministers need to understand the levels of fear and anger within the workplace and that our union will support staff every step of the way.”
Liberal Democrats pledge to extend free school meals provision
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds says the party will extend the provision of free school meals as part of its proposals to help children from poorer families.
Free school meals were made available to poorer pupils in Wales during the lockdown and a major political storm erupted when the UK Government failed to follow suit in England.
Ahead of next month’s Senedd election, Ms Dodds said, “… we’ve seen the benefits and advantages pupils, especially those from poorer backgrounds get from having a decent meal.
“Welsh Liberal Democrats want to extend the provision of Free School Meals during the school holidays beyond this pandemic and to invest in programmes which tackle holiday hunger, isolation, and exclusion.
“We also promise to continue funding to give our poorest pupils the same opportunities as their peers, from helping to cover the cost of school uniforms and sports kits, to supporting trips and IT equipment.
“Only a vote for the Welsh Liberal Democrats will secure this,” she added.
Labour call for action to save Liberty Steel jobs
The Labour party is calling for the UK Government to take action to prevent the collapse of Liberty Steel and save thousands of jobs.
Liberty Steel is the third largest steel company in the UK and currently employs 3,000 people at 11 sites in the UK, including over 200 at its plants in Newport and Tredegar.
Last month the UK Government rejected a plea from the company for a £170 million emergency loan following the collapse into administration of its main financier Greensill Capital.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned MPs last week that Liberty Steel could be forced to close some of its UK plants.
Government sources suggest it is preparing to intervene only if Liberty Steel fails to refinance and becomes insolvent but Labour claims delaying taking action until then could threaten up to 3,300 additional workers in the company’s supply line.
According to the Guardian, Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow business minister, is calling for a government commitment to stepping in before insolvency to allow suppliers to to continue to deal with Liberty without fearing losses.
“The people who lose out most from the option of becoming insolvent are the supply chain,” Powell said. “If the government were to indicate this were an option that would inject confidence into the supply chain,” she told the newspaper.
Earlier this month Liberty Steel owner Sanjeev Gupta vowed not to shut down any of his steel plants, despite the financial crisis currently engulfing GFG Alliance, the conglomerate that owns the steel manufacturing business.
Incinerator plans submitted to Welsh Government
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
A formal planning application to build a 12.8 mega-watt incinerator at Buttington Quarry near Welshpool has been submitted to the Welsh Government.
As the scheme which could create 35 jobs and could produce enough electricty to power 20,000 homes is seen as a Development of National Significance (DNS).
Because of this the application will be dealt with by government planning inspectors rather than Powys County Council planners.
The application by Alastair Hilditch-Brown of Broad Energy (Wales) Ltd, proposes: “Construction and operation of an energy recovery facility for the importation, storage and treatment of municipal, commercial and industrial waste and generation of heat and electricity.”
This would involve “re-profiling” a void in the quarry, earth works, changes to existing residential access and a new vehicle access from the A458 Welshpool to Shrewsbury trunk road.
Other facilities and buildings needed at the site for include electricity transformer sub-station and grid connection, weighbridge, areas to store materials, workshop, offices and canteen facilities for workers, electric vehicle charging facilities and even bicycle storage.
While the application is being dealt with by planning inspectors, the local authority as a statutory consultee will have a role to play.
According to the planning DNS acceptance notice by planning inspectorate case officer, Gemma James, Powys planners will need to produce a “comprehensive Local Impact Report” of these plans.
This will need to be submitted to the inspectorate as part of the process by May 24.
This report will need to include the likely impact of the area, planning history of the site, evidence of publicity, and any other planning or environmental consents Broad Energy may need to apply for as part of the scheme.
Also, as part of the “procedure order” county and community councillors affected by the proposal will also need to give their views by May 24.
Ms James said: “The procedure will be determined ten working days after the representations and Local Impact Report deadline has passed.
Ms James added that if a hearing or inquiry is needed to deal with the application the planning inspectorate would provide at least four weeks’ written notice of arrangements.
Since the community were made aware of the potential development in 2018, a campaign group objecting to the proposal public meetings and protests have taken place in Trewern.
Developers Broad Energy say the facility will “significantly reduce” the amount of waste sent to landfill while generating low-carbon energy at the same time.
Broad Energy believe the facility “will be a significant step in the right direction” towards helping Wales to become a zero-waste nation by 2050.