Welsh Secretary David TC Davies accuses Labour of planning to introduce road charging on Welsh motorways and trunk roads
Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies has accused the Welsh Government of planning to introduce road charging on motorways and other trunk roads in Wales.
Mr Davies, who has previously claimed that Labour wants to bring back toll charges on the Severn Bridges, said a Bill that already passed by the Senedd would give the Welsh Government the power to introduce congestion charges and the kind of controversial ultra low emission zones that exist in parts of London.
The Monmouth MP said: “It’s appalling that the Labour Welsh Government is passing legislation left, right and centre to continue their prolonged assault upon motorists in Wales. Not content with blocking any new roads from being built ever again and unilaterally imposing 20mph default speed limits, their latest stunt will now give the Welsh Government the power to tax you to use motorways and other trunk roads.
“Rather than help the nearly 25,000 people stuck on a Welsh NHS waiting list for two years or more, Labour’s priorities are elsewhere.
“Taxing people to use roads will also increase costs for businesses to operate and result in less firms wanting to base themselves in Wales, meaning there are fewer jobs and higher prices for ordinary people.”
“The Labour Welsh Government would not have ploughed thousands of hours into developing this legislation if they had no hidden plan to introduce road charging. The evidence is overwhelming: it is only a matter of time until we will all be charged to use our own roads.”
He added: “In stark contrast to Labour, the Prime Minister set out a clear Plan for Drivers which has put the brakes on such anti-car measures in England. We’re sticking to our plan which backs the motorists who keep our country moving.”
In a letter to Climate Change Minister Julie James, Mr Davies said: “I am writing to you following my recent letter to the Llywydd in which I noted my broad concerns regarding some of the policies that the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill will bring into force. I recognise that air pollution is detrimental to people’s health and is an issue that needs to be tackled. This is why I welcome many of the steps that the UK Government has already taken to reduce air pollution and its impacts, as well as the four-nation working through the Air Quality Common Framework. This action has meant that … air quality in the UK has improved significantly in recent decades with a decrease in all five major air pollutants.
“However, I am concerned about the potential economic and social impacts of some of the provisions included within the Bill such as any introduction of road charging on trunk roads, including the M4 and major A roads. In many areas of Wales – and in particular our rural areas – driving is often the only viable and reliable means of transport with the availability of a regular public transport service patchy at best. Therefore, any road charge could unfairly penalise those people who are carrying out everyday activities, such as travelling to work, socialising, or attending important health appointments through no fault of their own.
“Road charging could also impact on cross-border travel and stifle economic growth by placing a charge on trade via roads – especially if brought in alongside Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in our towns and cities. I acknowledge concerns raised by the haulage industry about the impact that CAZs may have on haulage and coach operations, with non-compliant vehicles displaced onto other smaller, local roads, whilst businesses will be required to foot the bill for entering these zones to undertake essential activities. This potential economic impact is an addition to the financial impact borne by local
An explanatory memorandum on the Bill Issued by the Welsh Government in March 2023 states: “It is essential for Ministers to have an effective range of powers to tackle road traffic pollution. Llwybr Newydd, the Wales Transport Strategy 2021, set a clear path to place people and climate change at the front and centre of our transport system. The Strategy reflects the need for an accessible, sustainable and efficient transport system.
“Three key priorities are identified: reducing the need to travel; ensuring accessible sustainable and efficient transport services and infrastructure; and encouraging take up of sustainable transport alternatives.
“One of the well-being ambitions of the Strategy is to ‘improve air quality and reduce environmental noise associated with transport’. It is recognised that ‘fair and equitable road user charging’ can have a part to play in encouraging people to ‘change their travel behaviour to use low-carbon, sustainable transport’.
“Our Clean Air Plan for Wales: Healthy Air, Healthy Wales, notes that ‘Demand management measures can help tackle congestion, reduce polluting emissions, and support modal shift to active travel and public transport alternatives.
“Although powers exist to introduce road user charging schemes in Wales, through Part III of the Transport Act 2000, these do not currently allow Ministers to introduce CAZs on trunk roads. They only allow for trunk road charging schemes to be introduced where the road is carried by a bridge, or passes through a tunnel, of at least 600 metres in length; or where a local traffic authority has requested Welsh Ministers to make the trunk road charging scheme in connection with a charging scheme proposed by them.
“It is proposed to utilise the Bill to address this by expanding the circumstances under which a trunk road charging scheme may be introduced. This will enable trunk road schemes to address air quality hot spots, allowing equivalence with local authority powers. It is also proposed that income raised through such schemes will be available for use on a broader range of measures not restricted to transport policies or proposals. This can further support air quality improvement and compliance with statutory limits and targets.”
“Our policy objective is to give Welsh Ministers strengthened powers to tackle poor air quality in the vicinity of trunk roads. This will benefit road users, those who live, work, attend school or otherwise spend time close to roads which are subject to the new power. There would also be benefits to the natural environment because of lower emission levels. Current powers are too limited and do not enable the Welsh Ministers to take targeted action, where required, to reduce air pollution levels caused by trunk road vehicle emissions (i.e. a charging Clean Air Zone).
“The policy objective is to give Welsh Ministers the power to take substantial action to address air pollution hotspots on the trunk road network where evidence shows a CAZ would be the most effective measure to deliver urgent reductions in polluting emissions on roads. This would address a significant gap in the Welsh Ministers’ current legislative powers, bringing about a comparability with local traffic authority powers.
“Although there are currently no commitments to introduce CAZs anywhere in Wales, a number have been introduced, and are in the pipeline, in English towns and cities. These schemes have been introduced because they have been modelled to demonstrate they can deliver significant reductions in polluting vehicle emissions and help to address non-compliance with statutory NO2 limits.
“National-scale modelling undertaken by Defra identified CAZs that include charging as the measure which will achieve statutory NO2 limit values in towns and cities in the shortest time possible. To date, action to deliver compliance with these limits in Wales has not included charging CAZs, but this may change in the future. Our policy approach to road user charging has been described in Wales Transport Strategy, and also in our draft National Transport Delivery Plan (NTDP). The latter notes the potential of road user charging to ‘deliver modal-shift, address carbon targets and support investment in sustainable transport’. The NTDP commits to “Further work… to develop a fair and equitable road user charging framework, including how local authorities can borrow against these future revenue streams to fund transport improvements; and also consider other alternatives such as workplace car parking levies and road space reallocation.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “There are no plans to introduce charges for motorists on Welsh Government-managed trunk roads.
“Powers to implement universal road charging and to retain revenues are held by the UK Secretary of State for Transport.
“Welsh Ministers’ powers to introduce charging schemes are a tool of last resort to tackle persistent air pollution hot spots should this be necessary in the future.”
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