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Turning the Corner – the Roads Review signals a new direction of travel

15 Feb 2023 6 minute read
M4 traffic at Port Talbot. Picture by Ben Salter (CC BY 2.0).

Huw Irranca-Davies, MS for Ogmore and Chair of the Senedd Cross-Party Group on Active Travel

The long-awaited Welsh Government response to the independent Roads Review was revealed yesterday. It is fair to say that it has divided opinion.

Across the country there will be people who are disappointed that a long-awaited road scheme has been halted or needs to be fundamentally re-worked to fit robust new criteria. Equally, there are many pleased at a new direction for transport in Wales, putting sustainable travel (bus and train and tram and walking and cycling etc) at the top of the agenda for the first time not just in decades but for many generations.

Whatever your view, there is no doubt that the Roads Review is one part of a truly radical package of measures which aims to change the way we move around our communities and around Wales, how we work and shop and socialise and access public services and healthcare and leisure and more.

Alongside this Roads Review we already have in the pipeline other significant measures: the ongoing development of the Metro proposals in North Wales, Mid Wales, West Wales and South East Wales: legislation to reregulate buses across Wales so that there is greater regional planning and local input to times and routes of services (the “One network, one timetable, one ticket: planning buses as a public service for Wales” strategy); the move to 20mph default speed limits in urban areas; the massively increased capital investment in active travel routes (walking and cycling etc); and the imminent Air Quality Bill for Wales; and more.

All of this shows that there is an absolute sea-change under way, to change how we travel, and the way we live and work. It is a dramatic and urgent and much-needed response to the dire climate and nature emergencies. It is about action on the climate and nature crises.

This sea-change is also about the hard fact that many people have no option other than public transport, and these are often the most transport-poor in our communities: 80% of those who rely on buses have no private transport (car) and no other transport option. It is also about tackling life-limiting air pollution from increased traffic and congestion This is about climate justice, but it is about social justice too.


Yet at the same time as we try to develop good public transport alternatives we face major challenges: to rebuild our bus services after the pandemic, which have only been kept going with emergency funding from Welsh Government and intense partnership working; challenges to continue our investment in rail services, despite chronic under-funding on the network from the UK government and – disgracefully – no Wales funding consequentials at all from the multi-billion pound spending on the England HS2 project; cuts in capital funding in our budget from the UK government and a worsened economic situation post-Trussonomics; and many other pressing demands on budgets related to the cost-of-living crisis.

We also have inherited a legacy of successive decades of investment predicated on road-expansion at the direct expense of investment in public transport, which has gone hand-in-hand with a societal acceptance that the petrol or diesel car is king. Yet when the private car is king and all the taxpayer funding goes on expanding roads to accommodate ever greater numbers of private cars, then the 80% who have no option other than to take a bus become beggars in this kingdom.

Investment in roads will continue of course, for public transport, but also because private vehicles (internal combustion engine or electric) will continue to be needed by many especially in rural areas or deep in our valleys where public transport or community transport or on-demand services are not currently present. But if we can shift the balance of funding progressively towards supporting other more sustainable modes of transport then over time we expand those better options widely across all of Wales.

Difficult discussions

In my own constituency there will be difficult discussions ahead. There will be long-awaited roads schemes like that in Llanharan which will need to be remodelled to match the more stringent criteria set down for future schemes. There are areas like Sarn and Bryncethin – traffic bottlenecks at rush hours and a brake on economic development in the Bridgend valleys -which desperately need investment in alternative transport options to take unnecessary vehicle journeys off the road and which can offer my constituents easy and affordable and more sustainable ways to leave their cars behind.

I am confident we can deliver new solutions to these transport issues, and I will be actively and urgently discussing this with Welsh Government and council leaders as well as local councillors and residents.

This will not be an easy journey to take as a nation, nor as local communities. But it is one we need to take and we are not alone. Other countries have already shown the success of shifting the balance from relentless investment in more roads towards greater investment in bus and train and active travel. The benefits are safer and more liveable communities for our families and streets with less pollution, better public transport and more active (and healthier for all) travel too.

To restate the obvious, there will be continued investment in roads because maintaining and adapting our road infrastructure is vital for buses and coaches and cars, even when they are electric. But there needs to a rebalancing towards far greater investment in attractive and affordable and regular and reliable buses and trains.

Greater urgency

The Roads Review announcement is part of this journey. But it’s not the end. We now need to push for greater urgency in rapidly developing the attractive and affordable public transport alternatives so more people can make easy choices to travel more sustainably.

But for Climate Justice and for Social Justice we need to be absolutely determined to take a new route together, as the old one has taken us down a complete dead-end.

Change is difficult, but we can do this together if we are agreed on the destination. That means bringing people with us. And perhaps that is the greatest challenge of all.

Read the Welsh Government response to the independent report on the Roads Review here: 

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Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 year ago

Huw says yesterday’s annoucement by his welsh labour govt “puts sustainable travel (bus and train and tram and walking and cycling etc) at the top of the agenda for the first time not just in decades but for many generations”… how does reducing the level of support his govt gives to bus services in Wales (also announced yesterday) do that? Cutting govt financial support for bus services will inevitably mean a decline in the numbers of bus services operating in Wales meaning people will have no alternative but to use cars more and so our carbon emissions in Wales will… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

You highlight the total absence of joined up thinking. Sustainable travel is only a dream when your government fails to make even basic services available to travel modest journeys without spending hours each way. Trains as far as I know will only follow the rail system so we will need good quality roads to enable buses and coaches to travel a pattern of routes that reach dozens of hubs up and down the country. I fear that the term sustainable will only ever apply to Cardiff and its environs and achieving that modest goal will take more effort and less… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Totally Linked-in but devoid of joined up thinking, just what one would expect from today’s crop of politicians, all marching to their own individual tune and agenda…

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 year ago

For people like me, all of this only building roads that aren’t going to ruin the environment stuff is absolutely disgusting. I hate my children and other people, so why would I care about something as trifling and boring as the actual air I breathe? I want to get around Wales more and quicker so I can moan about there not being a McDonalds in that Snowden we used to have until the wokers changed its name. Those fields are just getting in the way of me and my chips on the beach. I reckon the taffies just put all… Read more »

Nia James
Nia James
1 year ago

A lot of our Labour Senedd Members appear to want to maintain our levels of deprivation, and lack of economic investment. As a businesswoman I have been told time and again by people outside our border that we need to invest in roads, as much as we need to invest in rail, bus and air – people flying here directly is a key driver to progress through job creation and commerce. Get a grip Welsh Government, and drop the myopic, faux green ideology.

Ap Kenneth
1 year ago

Maintaining what we have would be a decent start, are you going to take up cycling when you see the potholes that develop on a daily basis in your local area. Can you cross the road, are pavements wide enough without having to step into the road? There is 70 yrs of development that cannot be unravelled in a few short years, when once there was a corner shop it is now a 5 mile drive to a supermarket for a weeks groceries, greenfield junctions covered now in retail or offices, Culverhouse Cross. Even Welsh Government offices, Development Bank of… Read more »

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