Today’s Senedd roundup: Minister defends infrastructure record as Tories attempt to revive Newport bypass scheme

Picture by Richardjo53 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Recognises the importance of roads as vital economic arteries which promote prosperity and acknowledges the economic and environmental impact of poor road connectivity and congestion.
  • Regrets that the First Minister has decided not to proceed with the M4 Newport bypass despite UK Government support.
  • Calls upon the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to deliver a Newport bypass; develop proposals for a major upgrade of the A55 and dualling of the A40 to Fishguard; engage with the UK Government to deliver a Pant/Llanymynech bypass (partly in Shropshire).

Roads to prosperity?

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), said the transport network was essential for the nation’s long-term economic prosperity, yet so often new road projects aren’t managed well – pointing towards delays and cost overruns associated with the A465 project and the rejection of the M4 Newport bypass.

“….major road schemes in Wales have failed to receive the improvements that they require to ensure that they are better able to meet the demands of Welsh road users: the A55 in north Wales is an example that has long suffered from underinvestment; there’s the A40, which has also experienced a lack of effective upgrades over the last 20 years.”
– Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George

While Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) couldn’t deny that investment needs to be made in the road network, there are other solutions. Issues with road congestion can’t be solved by building more roads. Also, it wasn’t appropriate for the UK Government to instruct the Welsh Government on what to build – though Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) made the point that AMs often wanted to instruct local government.

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) repeated some of the arguments in favour of the Newport bypass – more than 100 M4 closures in the last few years and a £1.50 return on investment for every £1 spent.

 

For Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) it was a case of Groundhog Day. We’ve had a stark reminder of the climate emergency, yet AMs are still debating whether to invest in new roads when public transport was crying out for investment. However, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) countered by saying commuting by car – even in congestion – was often faster than rail.

“….my brother-in-law, who has worked in Cardiff for 30 years, shares a car with four other people, and they pick up along the way and they travel to Lloyd’s Bank….If they can do it, why can’t others? I know of a care home in my constituency that also has catering workers with it who have done exactly the same….they’re all in lowest, minimum-wage jobs, but they’ve come together to carpool. Now it’s those options that are missing from this debate sometimes.”
– Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore)

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), called for rural-proofing of infrastructure spending. Places like Fishguard may be quite distant from the M4 corridor, but the A40 remains an important European-level transport route and while there are few political hang-ups on dualling the A40, progress has been slow.

Infrastructure record defended

As you might expect, Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), defended the Welsh Government’s record.

“in recent years we have completed several high-profile road projects, including Newtown bypass, which….ahead of schedule. It’s providing a real step-change in how people travel in the area, as well as to and beyond Newtown. Now, in contrast, by July 2018, the UK Government’s road schemes were running £2.8 billion over budget and 85 of the 112 road schemes were delayed, and let’s not forget the tragedies caused by the UK Government’s disastrous smart motorways project, recently exposed by Panorama as ‘killer’ roads.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Recognising the importance of cross-border links, two schemes – Pant & Llanymynech and Shrewsbury-Wrexham – are being prioritised for the next few years by both Welsh and UK governments.

The motion was defeated by 37 votes to 14.

Flooding causes will be properly investigated

While there’ve been several questions and debates on the recent storms and flooding this week – and unlikely to be the last this year – yesterday afternoon, AMs put forward what they think needs to happen next.

However, with just 30 minutes available because of how Plaid Cymru tabled the debate (they have a habit of splitting their one hour slot into two half-hour sessions), many AMs made the point that the issue warranted more time.

The Motion (Final/Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes the damage and devastation caused across Wales as a result of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis and pays tribute to the heroic efforts of the emergency services, public service workers and volunteers in responding to the adverse weather and storm damage.
  • Recognises that climate change will make adverse weather occurrences, including instances of serious flooding, more likely in future.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure investigations carried out into the cause of flooding are published and subject to scrutiny from affected communities, the Senedd and independent authorities; make additional financial and practical support available to individuals and businesses affected by the flooding as well as local authorities to conduct emergency repairs of flood defences, critical infrastructure and to accelerate the development of new flood defences; publish new planning policy, flood risk assessment and flood maps this year to take a stronger stance on flood plain development, the risks from climate change and use to prioritise flood defence schemes that protect the communities at highest risk of flooding from all sources.
  • Further calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that local communities and businesses are provided with continuing support beyond the initial clean-up operation to help them recover in the long-term.

Natural Resources Wales “should acknowledge their mistakes”

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believes that Natural Resources Wales should admit their mistakes and take responsibility for flooding in parts of the Rhondda caused by poor maintenance of culverts and tree-felling operations which left debris behind.

Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), said many people face a long-haul outside their homes and it could take the best part of a year for some communities to fully recover. Building on floodplains had to be outlawed too. He rightly made a point about scum targeting flood victims with scams and the need to make people aware.

Availability of insurance was also a major issue:

“I’m glad that the Welsh Government has offered an extra £500 for households without contents insurance, but that is like a drop in stagnant floodwater. Let’s get this straight – the people without insurance hadn’t neglected to get cover, they were refused cover because of previous flooding, or told that the premiums were extortionate and unaffordable for them. So, what conversations is your Government having with their UK Government counterparts to bring pressure on the insurance industry to stop refusing cover to the people who need it most?”
– Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East)

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) highlighted the public health impacts of flooding which are often neglected – many households have been put on antibiotics and given tetanus vaccines.

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) called for major improvements to public information, saying information was often coming from multiple different sources, was occasionally difficult to digest and some residents didn’t know if or when they had to leave their homes.

Flooding causes will be investigated

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said local authorities and Natural Resources will have to investigate the causes of the flooding and make any reports publicly available for scrutiny.

The Minister largely repeated what she said during Tuesday’s statement, saying that a new flood strategy would address many of the points raised by AMs including the location of new flood defences and improved information.

The motion was carried by 49 votes with one against.

Photo by Hugo-90 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wales should be at the forefront of hydrogen energy

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the need to reduce our carbon footprint and notes the potential of hydrogen to help us decarbonise.
  • Welcomes the establishment of the Wales Hydrogen Trade Association.
  • Notes that Wales has the opportunity to join the pioneers in moving hydrogen forward rapidly for environmental, health and economic benefits.
  • Acknowledges the study already underway to use Anglesey as a pilot area for hydrogen schemes, as well as schemes underway in several other areas of Wales.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to produce a Welsh hydrogen strategy.

Hydrogen has huge potential in the fight against climate change

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) – whilst long championing electric vehicles – said hydrogen was showing great potential too and shouldn’t be ignored. It’s seen as particularly desirable in terms of commercial transport (air, rail, heavy goods etc.) but there are smaller examples – such as a hydrogen bike he tried out yesterday.

Hydrogen has a particularly promising potential on Anglesey:

“Just imagine the scope for using excess marine and wind renewable energy generated around Ynys Môn at night, say, to produce hydrogen in a plant in the north of the island, where we need jobs, and using that to power road vehicles, trains and, yes, ships to and from Ynys Môn. Imagine then the potential of using the old Shell crude oil pipeline running from the north of the island directly to the north-west of England, creating a new, environmentally innovative export industry, exporting hydrogen.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), cited figures that estimate clean energy could be worth up to £170 billion to the UK economy by 2030. He called for close working with universities to make sure research into hydrogen power was properly linked with the practical applications.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) thought hydrogen showed the greatest potential for decarbonising public sector vehicle fleets. The Welsh Government should invest in companies, like Llandrindod Wells-based Riversimple – with the same enthusiasm and their investment in the combustion-based automotive sector.

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said hydrogen energy could massively decrease the amount of pollution generated by heavy industry:

Potential there, but Wales can’t scale it up alone

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said there was no single solution to decarbonisation, but low carbon gases are part of that. There was a lot of work the Welsh Government was supporting – particularly FLEXIS, which is looking at domestic use of hydrogen.

Scaling it up wasn’t something Wales can do by ourselves.

“I hope the enthusiasm of the Tory Members today will translate into real commitment by their Westminster colleagues to provide the additional funding needed to help renewable technologies become truly price competitive. There are many major energy announcements from the UK Government that are long overdue and I hope that….they will make it clear not just how they will support the development of these technologies but, where the responsibilities are non-devolved, how they will support the development of these technologies here in Wales.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

Vote

Given the names of Labour AMs who voted against – Lee Waters, Julie Morgan, Jenny Rathbone and Jane Hutt – I’m assuming they don’t think hydrogen is the way forward as producing it is, in itself, fairly energy-intensive. I wouldn’t interpret this as them wanting to see the world burn all of a sudden.

The motion was carried by 43 votes to five.

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All the talk emanating from Westminster, and echoed by Skates, was of “cross-border links” by road. Not one mention of links between the North and the South of Wales, and doodly-squat on rail links for same.