Forget the ‘red wall’ – it’s the Red Route that could cost Labour in the north-east at the Senedd election
Tom Rippeth, STAMP out the Red Route
The election gun has now sounded and… we’re off! New roads will be an election issue this time around, with the Conservatives stating that if they form the next Welsh Government, they will resurrect the M4 Relief Road.
However, in a bizarre role reversal, in Flintshire, Labour is stubbornly hanging on to its proposal for a new £300 million 12 kilometre dual carriageway, dubbed the Red Route.
The Red Route would cut through a solar park, ancient woodland and meadows, an award-winning organic farm and allotments run by a local co-operative group.
Plaid Cymru MS Llyr Huws Gruffydd has spoken out against it in the Senedd, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Green Party of Wales have come out against it ahead of the election.
Mark Isherwood, regional MS and the Conservative candidate for Delyn, where the Red Route would be situated, is so concerned about it that he has referred it to Audit Wales.
But Ken Skates, the minister for transport, finds himself in the Alice in Wonderland position of vehemently supporting First Minister Mark Drakeford’s rejection of the M4 Relief Road – citing post- COVID-19 work patterns and climate change – whilst at the same time equally vehemently supporting the Red Route, and studiously ignoring these very reasons he gave for rejecting the M4 Relief Road!
The results of the 2019 UK general election also provide a worrying sign for Labour, with the Red Wall Labour seats of Delyn and Clwyd South both falling to the Conservatives.
Now the politics around the Red Route risk becoming a significant factor in the outcome of the election Wales-wide. National opinion polls are indicating a Labour victory, but short of an overall majority, with Plaid the likely coalition partner.
However, the Conservatives have identified Delyn, where the Red Route is located, as a target seat for them. The Red Route is hugely unpopular across affected communities and beyond in the constituency, such as Northop, Flint, Flint Mountain and Oakenholt, but sitting Labour MS Hannah Blythyn has been very silent on it, despite being pressed about it on numerous occasions.
Ms Blythyn is a junior minister, so joint ministerial responsibility ties her hands somewhat, but she finds herself in something of a bind. With 1500 people signing a petition to the Senedd Petitions Committee against the Red Route she faces a real prospect of losing her seat on this issue, with the Committee recently recommending the pausing the Red Route after an unprecedented 18-month investigation.
If you would like a side order of irony with that, the MS for the neighbouring constituency, Clwyd South is none other than Mr Skates himself, an enthusiastic proponent and supporter of the Red Route through thick and thin. It is likely that he will also face some blowback from the Red Route controversy, which could well play a part in unseating him as well.
The drumbeat of opposition to the Red Route is sounding ever louder, even within the Labour Party, with Labour-lead Flintshire County Council opposing the scheme unless other significant traffic measures are carried out first, and their impact assessed before embarking on this leviathan of a road scheme. Ironically, these demands were made at the Petitions Committee by Carolyn Thomas, deputy leader of Flintshire County Council, who is also number one on the Labour North Wales Regional list, and is therefore a potential beneficiary of either Ms Blythyn or Mr Skates losing their seats.
In the last few days as the border opens up, holiday traffic has again started to build up in the area. Amazingly, traffic studies for the Red Route carried out by Mr Skates’ department didn’t consider the impact of the proposed new road on holiday traffic, and some experts consider that the Red Route would make the traffic situation even worse in the communities around the proposed new road.
With the election so finely balanced, losing one Labour seat because of a 12 kilometre dual carriage way could be considered careless, but losing two Labour seats, including two ministers of the Welsh Government on the altar of the Red Route takes us into a whole new territory.