Having said ‘no’ to the M4, Drakeford must now find solutions to Wales’ transport woes
Ifan Morgan Jones
Scrapping the M4 relief road was the right thing to do, and First Minister Mark Drakeford should be commended for doing it.
As one person on Twitter said, you don’t solve an obesity problem with elasticated pants. And you don’t solve a chronic over-reliance on cars by buildings roads next to other roads that are full up.
But the waste of money on the plans for an M4 relief road, already in the hundreds of millions, is all because the Welsh Government and Westminster have completely failed to come up with solutions to solve Wales’ transport problems.
Saying ‘no’ to the wrong solutions is the easy part, because it doesn’t require any action – it’s saying ‘yes’ to the right solutions that is hard.
And as far as that goes, after 20 years of a Labour Welsh Government, the cupboard of good ideas seems to be empty.
There seems to be little point looking to Westminster for any help. Unless it’s a rail line, subway or airport that benefits London they don’t want to know about it.
They scrapped the electrification of the rail line between Cardiff and Swansea. And their sole contribution to Wales’ infrastructure in the past few years has been to build massive signs saying ‘Prince of Wales Bridge’ on the Second Severn Crossing.
What Wales needs is a massive investment in an integrated transport network that gets people in and out of their nearest urban areas quickly, efficiently and without fuss. In the meantime, we need to scale down the use of inner-town and city car use as much as possible, opening opportunities for the use of healthier commuting alternatives.
We also need to open public transport solutions between towns in rural areas or those who need to travel across the country. Re-opening the train line between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth, and then onwards to Bangor, would be a great start.
This needs to be an investment across Wales, in the north of the country, the midlands and south-west, to tackle the very real impression that any investment that does come to Wales tends to go into the south-east.
Any plan should take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book and emphasise the well-being of the people of Wales over economic growth. We know that it is solving poverty and inequality, and keeping people healthy, that ultimately makes them happy, not ever-increasing GDP.
For that same reason, we should resist the need to cater for an ever-growing population which will make our transportation problems worse, too. Ever increasing housing developments in far-flung areas should be put on hold unless there is an integrated transport solution for them.
Beyond London, the UK is a mess as far as transport is concerned. Westminster has got it completely wrong over many decades. We can only peer enviously at the public transport solutions of other countries in the EU.
If Westminster won’t act, then Wales needs to demand the power to act itself. Under the circumstances, it shouldn’t be difficult for Wales to do better.
If devolution is to thrive, and Wales develop as a nation, it must show that it can do things differently – not just become a little mini-me of England, with too much of the wrong investment in one place.
But the worst thing that could happen today is that the Welsh Government says ‘no’ to the M4 Relief Road and then does – nothing.
Having been the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, we should be able to aim to become the first to find green solutions to our transportation difficulties, too.